Parliament approves mandatory vaccination for first time since 1853

Parliament has approved regulations that will make Covid vaccination compulsory for people who work in care homes.

There has not been compulsory vaccination in the UK at least since the controversy around smallpox vaccination in 1853. That was the last time a UK government tried to make vaccination compulsory. Laws introduced in 1898 and 1907 established legal recognition that choices around vaccination should be personal choices.

Regulations passed by parliament on 13 July change this and, for the first time in 150 years, the right to choose whether to be vaccinated will effectively be removed for anyone who works in a care home.

The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021 have amended the Health and Social Care Act 2008, to require that anyone who needs to enter a care home for the purposes of their employment will be have to be fully vaccinated. There will be a duty on care home providers to check the vaccination status of all workers entering a care home setting. This will include workers who are not involved in providing care, such as tradespeople, cleaners, kitchen staff and admin staff. The legal requirement will come into effect 16 weeks after the regulations were passed by parliament, so we think from around the end of October. The regulations are required to be reviewed annually.

UNISON has always been very clear:

  • We support the vaccination programme
  • We have encouraged and supported our members to get vaccinated
  • We have worked with members who are unsure or hesitant about getting vaccinated

But, it is wrong to force people to receive a medical intervention and to face being sacked if they do not

Care providers, medical professionals and trade unions think this is wrong. A recent article in the British Medical Journal noted that: “Vaccination is not a panacea for safety. Safety, according to current regulatory law, is achieved through adequate staffing levels, training, equipment, cleanliness, personal protective equipment, risk assessment, and consultation with staff and residents.” We agree wholeheartedly with this. Vaccination rates amongst most care workers are already very high; as much as 96% in some areas. When vaccinations reach this level other interventions become more important such as adequate staffing and hygiene.

We know that there may be some of our members who work in care home settings, or who are required to enter care homes to do their job, who may have reservations or concerns about being vaccinated. Unfortunately these new regulations have legal force, and all staff entering a care home will be required to comply with the law. We are asking that employers engage with the relevant staff and offer support to help them access independent advice about being vaccinated. If they are still not willing to be vaccinated they should be offered suitable alternative employment. However, the law will ultimately allow for them to be sacked for refusing to be vaccinated. That said, existing laws on discrimination and health & safety will still apply so it is important that any member who is facing dismissal under these new regulations contacts us straight away.

We also know that some employers are looking at expanding the scope of compulsory vaccination to other roles and settings. We will oppose this as we continue to believe that persuasion and support is better than compulsion. if your employer is looking to introduce mandatory vaccination that goes further than the law requires, please let us know.