A Government Minister has publicly challenged the suggestion that the decision to make vaccines mandatory for the social care workers penalised any factions of the health and social care sector.
Speaking at the Future of Care Conference held on 29 March 2022, the Minister of State for Care and Mental Health, Gillian Keegan said:
“It was not an inequality thing. When Omicron came, the vaccine wasn’t as effective against transmission, so it was clear that the science didn’t back up [the Mandatory Ruling] because the vaccine wasn’t protecting people from transmission, and obviously the severity of the disease was milder. So it was about making a decision about competing rights, it wasn’t about penalising anybody.”
On 11 November 2021 the Government introduced a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine (“Mandatory Ruling”) for people working in certain sectors. This meant that all social care staff working in a regulated CQC care setting were required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of their employment. This was set to be extended to the whole of the health and social care sector, including the NHS, in England from 1 April 2022. However, the Government did a U-turn on the policy and scrapped it entirely following a consultation held on 9 February 2022, with it ultimately being revoked on 15 March 2022. This drastic change of position was actioned after roughly 40,000 staff had left the adult social care sector, further compounding workforce pressures.
Why did the Government reverse the Policy?
Originally the policy was implemented following the emergence of the Omicron variant, and the lack of clarity surrounding this. However, the Government ultimately withdrew the Mandatory Ruling policy due to the emerging lower risk and threat Omicron posed to staff and people in the UK. This decision was based on the Omicron strain being less harmful than originally suspected. In addition, the vaccine was less effective against Omicron and therefore the science did not justify the Mandatory Ruling. It was determined that it was no longer a proportionate measure with it being less effective than it previously was against the earlier Delta strain.
Ms Keegan’s comments will provide little comfort for social care providers that lost significant numbers of staff and will reasonably feel penalised knowing pre-existing staff shortages were worsened despite concerns being raised.