On 17th June 2021 it was announced by the government that all care home staff in England would soon be required to have had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine in order to continue to work. The announcement was made as almost three quarters of the UK adult population has received at least one dose of a vaccine. Exemptions to this new legislation will of course be given to those with a medical reason, such as certain conditions and auto-immune diseases which contraindicate vaccines. It is thought that the legislation will be in force by October, and workers refusing their vaccination could be redeployed into another area of business, or risk redundancy. Mandatory vaccination has become a contentious topic recently, with a far from unanimous feeling on the legislation throughout the sector.
Some care organisations have voiced concerns that making vaccines mandatory could discourage those who want to pursue a career in healthcare, but are worried about vaccination. With anything to do with coronavirus, there is of course an extremely varied canvas of opinion on how safe people feel, how it has impacted their lives, and how aware they are of science and developments in technology. Those who may be closer to a scientific discipline in healthcare e.g. laboratory staff, surgeons and nuclear medicine physicians may be more in touch with literature around medical developments and thus may understand the vaccine technology further. In younger adults looking to join their first career in a care home, or older carers, they may be worried about side effects, long term effects of the vaccine, or perhaps have moral, ethical or religious reasons as to why they do not want to be vaccinated.
The vaccine requirement is reported to extend to those who will visit the care homes – including tradespeople, beauticians and therapist and volunteers. From a patient perspective, the legislation is in place to prevent more serious outbreaks of coronavirus which infiltrated care homes in the first wave in 2020, causing devastation as it quickly spread from resident to resident. Although more transmissible variants are certainly a continual possibility, all available data on the current vaccines are that, for most people, vaccines vastly reduce the rate of hospitalisation, severe disease and have a marked effect on reducing fatalities.
Much focus has been on deaths in the pandemic so far – rightly so, lives lost is a terrible tragedy for families, communities and the world at large. Something which has hitherto been masked has been the giant toll of disability and post-viral syndrome (long Covid) which has resulted from even mild infections. Long Covid is thought to affect over 400,000 people in the UK alone at the current moment. Individuals in care homes who are vaccinated will inevitably still have some form of physical disability or mental difficulty which causes varying degrees of frailty. Although the vaccine may save them from death, there is no guarantee it may not cause further disability if a community of patients in a care home experience a further outbreak of coronavirus, causing a deterioration in their health even further. Even colds and flus can hasten death in the frailest of patients, and this is why it is vital all visitors to a care home have both doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
Many nurses and healthcare workers receive vaccination before their roles when they work with different populations and encounter particular risks i.e. hepatitis, infectious disease vaccines and blood borne disease vaccines. The coronavirus vaccination being mandatory is a hot topic in the news, but mandatory vaccination has been commonplace for a long time in healthcare. Unless there are strong religious, ethical or medical reasons one does not want a coronavirus vaccine, it remains the best way to protect vulnerable patients from more severe infection, but testing, distancing and aseptic techniques will be here to stay as we learn to live with the virus.