Health and social care staff should not be “coerced” into having a Covid vaccine, says the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). The union, which boasts a membership of 450,000 registered nurses, has encouraged all staff to take a vaccine but says that those who decide not to should be supported. In some cases, however, it notes that it may be “appropriate for employers to consider redeploying [those who choose not to take the vaccine] to lower risk areas”. In a statement, the RNC said there are “serious concerns around mandating vaccines”.
Like the wider population, health and care staff are a diverse group and there are both physical and societal barriers for some on the take up for the vaccine.
The RCN do not support staff being made or coerced into having the vaccine. Staff vaccination should not be used as part of staff contracts, it should not be a condition of employment or part of employment contracts, linked to terms and conditions of employment or to pay.
The RCN do not believe that this approach is effective in improving uptake of vaccination in staff. The RCN recommend that all organisations have a proactive approach and make sure their staff have easy access to the vaccine within the working day. Staff should also have access to support with the right information, encouragement and clear explanation of the benefit and value of the vaccine. These measures will help to achieve a high vaccine uptake.
In their supplementary guidance to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, the HSE say that employers should explain the advantages and disadvantages of immunisation versus non-immunisation. Immunisation should be seen only as a useful supplement to reinforce physical and procedural control measures, not as the sole protective measure.
The HSE adds that employees may not wish to take up the offer of immunisation, or they may not respond to a vaccine and will, therefore, not be immune. If so, employers should consider the effectiveness of the other controls and consider whether any additional controls should be implemented to allow them to work safely.
If RCN members decide they do not want the vaccine the reasons should be explored. If they remain anxious about having the vaccine, the RCN would support their decision. It may be appropriate for employers to consider redeploying them to lower risk areas.
The Government is currently conducting a consultation on making Covid vaccinations mandatory for care home staff working with elderly residents. As it stands, the vaccine rates among staff at older adult care homes are below SAGE’s recommended level in more than half of England’s local authorities.
The RCN’s statement is worth reading in full.