LONDON (Reuters) – It will be mandatory for care home workers in England to have coronavirus vaccinations, British health minister Matt Hancock said on Wednesday, adding the government was considering whether the policy should be extended to healthcare workers too.
Britain has high take-up rates of COVID-19 vaccines, but has been examining making the shots compulsory for those working in care homes – whose residents are among the most vulnerable to the disease – to boost coverage further.
“We have decided to take this proposal forward to protect residents. The vast majority of staff in care homes are vaccinated, but not all,” Hancock told parliament, adding a similar move would be considered for the National Health Service (NHS).
“We will be taking forward the measures to ensure the mandation, as a condition of deployment, for staff in care homes, and we will consult on the same approach in the NHS in order to save lives and protect patients from disease.”
The new legislation will come into force from October, and there will be a 16-week grace period. The health ministry said 1.2 million social care workers had taken up the vaccine already, 78% of the total.
It added that anyone coming into care homes to do other work – for instance tradespeople, hairdressers and beauticians – would also have to follow the regulations.
In April, Italy became the first country in Europe to introduce mandatory vaccination for health workers while Serbia said it was considering making it compulsory.
Other authorities have gone further: in Moscow, all workers with public facing roles in the Russian capital have been ordered to get vaccinated against COVID-19, while Saudi Arabia has outlined plans to make it mandatory for all workers.
Some British lawmakers spoke in support of people’s right to choose over whether to get vaccinated, and expressed concern that Hancock’s announcement was the first step down a road that might lead to mandatory vaccination for everyone.
“I do not agree with mandatory vaccination of the public,” Hancock said. “But for those who have a duty to care in an environment that includes some of the most vulnerable people in the country, I think that this is a sensible and reasonable step in order to save lives.”
(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Alistair Smout; Editing by Michael Holden and Alex Richardson)