University of Beds lecturer backs plans for compulsory vaccines on all care home staff
Following today's news that the UK government is planning mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations for all care home staff and potentially all other healthcare workers, Dr Chris Papadopoulos, Principal Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Bedfordshire, believes it is a difficult decision but one that needs to be made to protect the most vulnerable:
Dr Papadopoulos said: “Although this is a contentious and controversial policy which strikes at the heart of what we choose to value in our society, from a public health perspective it is a reasonable move.
"Ultimately, the primary responsibility of care home staff is to protect and care for their patients and unfortunately, the reality is that older people in care homes are among the most vulnerable to Covid-19.
"Vaccines have been proven to be highly efficacious and safe, so the perceived harms that drive hesitancy don’t translate into actual harms in reality. On the other hand, vaccine hesitancy has been clearly demonstrated to cost lives.
"Given that vaccine hesitancy among social care staff is significantly higher compared to other types of NHS staff (68.7% vs 83.7% have been fully vaccinated respectively), this policy would undoubtedly save lives, which should always be our primary objective.
“The question should be whether we value liberty over safety under all circumstances. Ideally, we want everyone to make a voluntarily informed consent towards vaccination.
"But we also need the overall rate of voluntary consent to be high, especially in risk groups and essential workers such as care home staff who serve and have contact with the very most vulnerable in our society.
"It would be too risky, for example, to accept a situation where only 50% or 40% of care home workers are vaccinated considering the patients they care for.
"A line should be drawn somewhere, as we have in previous cases where individual liberty can clash with safety (e.g. the legal requirement of wearing a seat belt or not using a mobile phone while driving).
“Nonetheless we have to recognise that this is a big ask for care home staff which will create significant anxiety for many, and among a population that is already likely to be mentally fragile with low resilience having had to cope and see the disastrous impact of Covid-19 to their patients first hand.
"Making vaccinations compulsory for them also risks many workers resigning in protest, leaving an already stretched social care system extended even further. However, these problems can to some extent be mitigated against.
"For example, the government could and should reward the entire NHS social care staff population with a meaningful boost in salary, something that is long overdue.”