A member of staff at the Abercorn House Care Home receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (Image: Getty Images)
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NHS staff could be forced to have a Covid-19 jab as ministers bid to protect elderly and vulnerable people from infection.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed reports that the government planned to make jabs mandatory for care home staff during a debate on pandemic restrictions in the House of Commons.
But he also revealed the Department for Health was looking at forcing vaccines on all NHS staff.
He said: "After careful consultation, we have decided to take this proposal forward to protect residents.
"Now, the vast majority of staff in care homes are already vaccinated but not all, and we know that the vaccine not only protects you but protects those around you.
“Therefore 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.”
Affected care home workers will have 16 weeks to have the vaccine or face being fired under the policy, according to a report in the BBC.
Hancock told MPs: “The principle of vaccination for those in a caring responsibility is already embedded and indeed there is a history going back more than a century of vaccination being required in certain circumstances, and I think these are reasonable circumstances.
“So, we will go ahead for those who work in care homes and we will consult for those in domiciliary care and on the NHS, but I have no proposals for and wouldn’t expect that we would then go any wider.”
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Conservative former minister Steve Baker suggested carers should have a right to choose between the vaccine or daily lateral flow tests, with Mr Hancock replying: “It is a matter of risk and we know the vaccine reduces that risk very significantly.”
Ministers believe the arguments in favour of protecting patients from potentially infectious staff now outweigh those that gives health workers the right to choose whether or not to be jabbed.
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said that while they want all NHS staff to get jabbed, “compulsion is a blunt instrument that carries its own risks".
It said: “While some healthcare workers are already required to be immunised against certain conditions to work in certain areas, any specific proposal for the compulsory requirement for all staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19 would raise new ethical and legal implications."
MPs were debating extending lockdown regulations after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to delay 'Freedom Day' until July 19.
Ministers had to act after scientists raised the alarm over the Delta, or India, variant took hold in the UK, with cases of the disease doubling in some parts of the country.
Labour has said it will support extending lockdown.
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said that lifting all restrictions now “could be akin to throwing petrol on a fire”.
He told the Commons: “I believe where we are now in response to this virus is that we should listen to those health professionals and take into account what they are saying.
“Delaying the road map by four weeks will hopefully relieve the pressure on hospitals, which is why we are prepared to support the restrictions tonight in the lobbies because, for me, I think if we lifted all the restrictions now I fear that that could be akin to throwing petrol on a fire at this moment, so we will support the government."
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has come under fire, however, for failing to offer further support to businesses.