Frontline health and social care workers were put towards the front of the queue for the vaccine in recognition of their increased risk of exposure and transmission of Covid-19.
By the end of February, an estimated 13 out of every 14 NHS health care workers had received their first dose. However, vaccine rates for social care staff lag behind those working in the health service. Rates also vary widely across the English regions, with the North East and Yorkshire witnessing the highest proportions of the workforce vaccinated, and London the lowest.
Despite being among the ‘first in line’, fewer than 3 in 4 staff working in care homes for older adults have received a first dose. Rates for other social care staff are even lower with fewer than 3 in 5 having had their first dose. This includes home care workers and personal assistants but not unpaid carers. As a comparison, more than 9 in 10 people aged 80 and over have received a first dose.
Around 80,000 frontline NHS staff and 579,697 social care staff have yet to receive a first dose. Of course, not all staff are eligible: just over 19,000 (4%) staff in care homes for older people have had COVID-19 within 28 days; others may be ineligible for other medical reasons. There are also continuing logistical challenges given social care staff are dispersed across 18,200 providers, and half of all staff work part-time.
The government is reportedly assessing mandatory vaccination for eligible health and care staff as part of its review on vaccination passports. This assessment is fraught with ethical, moral and legal implications. There is some degree of precedent, with some NHS staff contracts already requiring inoculation against certain diseases (such as Hepatitis B), and some care providers are already beginning to introduce “no jab no job” recruitment policies. But Denmark’s recent aborted efforts to make the vaccination mandatory offer a cautionary tale.