Limited exemptions for mandatory Covid vaccination
Last week, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published a "Stakeholder Q&A" document which provides some further details. The key area of interest to providers is around exemptions to the requirement to be vaccinated. The DHSC response indicates that these will be limited.
The DHSC have confirmed the following:
• Medical exemption
"There will be a small number of people where the clinical advice is that the COVID-19 vaccination is not suitable for them. Further details on this will be outlined in guidance, which we will provide in due course. This guidance will give more detail about exemptions, which will reflect the Green Book on Immunisation against infectious disease (COVID-19: the green book, chapter 14a) and clinical advice from The Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).”
• Pregnant workers:
"The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that pregnant women should be offered the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as the rest of the population, based on their age and clinical risk group. There have been no specific safety concerns identified with any brand of COVID-19 vaccines in relation to pregnancy. Real-world data from the United States show that around 90,000 pregnant women have been vaccinated, mainly with mRNA vaccines including Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, without any safety concerns being raised. Based on this data, the JCVI advises that it is preferable for pregnant women in the UK to be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines where available. The regulations will apply to all staff working in a CQC-regulated care home for people requiring nursing or personal care in England, including those who are pregnant, unless they have a medical reason not to be vaccinated."
• Breastfeeding or trying to get pregnant
"The regulations will apply to all staff working in a CQC-regulated care home for people requiring nursing or personal care in England, including those who are breastfeeding or planning to get pregnant, unless they have a medical reason not be vaccinated. Women who are planning pregnancy, are in the immediate postpartum, or are breastfeeding can be vaccinated with any vaccine, depending on their age and clinical risk group. All the vaccines are subject to rigorous testing before they can be given to the public. There is no evidence to suggest the vaccines can cause problems with fertility. The British Fertility Society (BFS) and Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists (ARCS) say there is absolutely no evidence, and no theoretical reason, that any of the vaccines can affect the fertility of women or men."
• Religious beliefs
The DHSC has confirmed that there will be no exemption for staff who object to vaccination on religious grounds.
For further information on the proposals, read the FAQs from our vaccine webinar on 17 June 2021.
Guidance on next steps
- Continue to inform, engage and consult with unvaccinated and non-exempt staff in light of the proposal to make vaccination mandatory.
- Identify any staff who have only had one dose of the vaccine, as two will be required under the new proposals. Discuss arrangements and timescales for their second dose and identify any hesitancy (e.g. due to symptoms from first dose) and provide any necessary support or information.
- Identify potentially exempt workers (subject to further guidance from DHSC) and start thinking about how they can evidence their exempt status.
- Start discussions with staff who may have thought that they would, but are unlikely to, be exempt under the rules. They will need time to adjust and consider their options.
- Start preparing for adaptations to your recruitment process and documentation. Please get in touch with us if you need support with this as we can offer a Recruitment Package for care providers to ensure you are compliant and minimise the risks to your business.
- Take advice on the process you will need to follow if it becomes necessary to dismiss unvaccinated staff. There may be complex cases which careful consideration is required, e.g. where an employee is on long term sick, there is a dispute over whether they are exempt, or where they agree to be vaccinated but cannot complete both doses before the deadline. We are happy to guide you through these issues.
- Assess and budget for the financial implications of paying notice pay to dismissed staff and additional agency and recruitment costs. Depending on when the proposal becomes law and the deadline for implementation by providers it may be possible for staff to be given and work their notice, but you should take advice at the time.
- Don’t take any dismissal action before the changes become law as they are subject to Parliamentary approval and jumping the gun could give rise to unfair dismissal claims.
- Await further guidance – we will keep you updated on any developments!