More than a quarter of UK care home staff do not believe coronavirus vaccines should be mandatory for them to go to work, research suggests.
Some 67% supported the Government’s edict that all staff in registered care homes in England must be vaccinated to continue working unless medically exempt, according to a survey of 4,048 care home workers.
But 27% disagreed and 6% said they were not sure in the poll by carehome.co.uk in July.
The Government has said coronavirus vaccinations will be compulsory for all registered care home staff in England, including anyone entering a care home, such as health workers, inspectors and tradespeople, from November 11.
It is a controversial move, with some sector leaders having warned about the negative impact it could have on already stretched staffing levels.
More than half of the survey respondents (51%) said Covid-19 vaccination was already mandatory for staff in the home where they work.
Care home residents are among the most vulnerable to coronavirus, with residents and staff offered the jab as a priority at the start of the vaccine rollout.
Latest figures from NHS England show that 94.4% of eligible residents and 80% of staff in elderly care homes are double jabbed.
But a quarter of care homes has not met a threshold of 80% of staff and 90% of residents given a first dose to provide a minimum level of protection against outbreaks, as recommended by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
Sue Learner, editor of carehome.co.uk, said care homes must do everything they can to protect residents but forcing staff to get jabbed could see a “huge number” leaving the sector.
The Government’s best estimate is that around 40,000 care home staff (7%) risk being lost as a result of compulsory Covid-19 vaccinations, costing the industry £100 million to replace.
But it has not yet published a full impact assessment, which is expected soon.
Ms Learner said: “The Government needs to give care homes some much-needed support over the coming months to ensure they can cope with a possible recruitment crisis if care workers do end up leaving because of this policy.
“The huge number of deaths in care homes have been catastrophic and if compulsory vaccination of care home staff gives residents better protection that it should definitely be welcomed.
“But not if it plunges care homes into a staffing crisis as that is also detrimental to the health of residents and can put their lives in danger.”
John Godden chief executive of Salutem Healthcare, said the group’s policy of compulsory vaccination for front-line staff has received “near total support”.
He said: “Above all, in this sector, we have a duty of care to those we support and ensuring our colleagues are fully vaccinated against this pernicious disease is essential in keeping our residents safe.”
The approved coronavirus vaccines have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
They have been tested on thousands of people in clinical trials, and millions have been jabbed with reports of serious side-effects “very rare”.
Neil Russell, the head of PJ Care, which operates three care homes, called the Government’s policy “appalling and likely to spread mistrust of the vaccine”.
He said: “This mistrust can be overcome, but only through time and demonstration of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Making it mandatory will only increase the mistrust.”
A London care home worker, who did not want to be identified, said she wants to wait for more evidence on the vaccine before making a decision on whether to get jabbed.
She had been intending to retire in three years but will now have to stop working sooner.
She said: “To those who say that I am being selfish, irresponsible and am not putting residents first, you are so far off the mark.
“Putting residents first has always and still is at the heart of my caring.
“This is pure discrimination against those who refuse for their own personal reasons. I am about to lose a job I love in a care home that has respected my choice throughout.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Vaccines save lives and extensive evidence and studies show time and time again that they are incredibly safe and effective.
“While staff and residents in care homes have been prioritised and the vast majority are now vaccinated, we need to do everything we can to keep reducing the risk for the most vulnerable.
“As this survey shows, and as we know from extensive consultation with the sector, the majority of care staff are in favour of this policy and we will continue to work to drive uptake among staff to protect vulnerable people.”