Care home workers in England could be forced to have a coronavirus vaccine if they work directly with elderly residents, ministers have said.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has launched a consultation on making Covid vaccination a condition of employment for care home staff.
The consultation will last five weeks and will look at the potential impact it could have on staffing levels and safety, as well as how it could be work and who could be exempt.
Staff, care providers, residents and their families are being urged to take part, with a decision expected to be made this summer.
Announcing the consultation, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “Older people living in care homes are most at risk of suffering serious consequences of Covid-19 and we have seen the grave effects the virus has had on this group.
“Making vaccines a condition of deployment is something many care homes have called for, to help them provide greater protection for staff and residents in older people’s care homes, and so save lives.”
It is understood NHS workers will not be included in the plans and that it will only apply to carers looking after elderly residents.
Only 80 per cent of staff and 90 per cent of residents in care homes need to be vaccinated to provide a “minimum level of protection” but just 53 per cent of homes in England are meeting those targets.
This means up to 150,000 residents in care homes could be left at increased risk, according to the DHSC.
It also warned the current staff vaccination level is below 80 per cent in 89 local authority areas and across all 32 London boroughs, while 27 local authority areas have an uptake of below 70 per cent.
Mr Hancock added: “The vaccine is already preventing deaths and is our route out of this pandemic. We have a duty of care to those most vulnerable to Covid-19, so it is right we consider all options to keep people safe.”