From 11 November, it will be a condition of employment for adult care home workers in England to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they’re exempt for medical reasons.
The government has also announced that patient-facing NHS staff in England will be expected to have their COVID-19 vaccinations by spring 2022.
Some employers have already started to redeploy staff who have refused to have the COVID-19 vaccine into non-patient-facing roles.
As it currently stands, this could amount to a breach of contract and the RCN may raise concerns with individual employers. But in settings where mandatory vaccination becomes law, there will be limited ability to stop the redeployment of members who remain hesitant or reluctant to get jabbed.
As trusted colleagues, activists can help educate members about vaccinations and dispel myths, says Helen Donovan, the RCN’s Professional Lead for Public Health.
“It’s the RCN’s position – informed by members – that all nursing staff should have any vaccine deemed necessary to help protect themselves, patients, colleagues, family members, and the wider community. This has always included the flu vaccine and more recently the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We know support from experienced peers can instil confidence in colleagues. Being vaccine hesitant doesn’t mean people will never get the vaccine which is why supportive conversations are key.”
“I work in the community and unfortunately, we had less uptake of the COVID vaccine with some of our nursing staff, some of whom refused to have it. I was approached by our head of nursing to see if I could persuade them, by helping them understand it was a good idea, rather than trying to force them into it.
“I’ve had COVID-19 myself, which was followed by long COVID, the effects of which have lasted for several months, so I know exactly how bad this virus can be. I shared my own experiences to help staff make their decisions.
“I’m very open about my own illness, but in the African culture many still won’t talk about it, as they can feel sharing this kind of information with anyone is wrong. They often won’t say whether they’ve had COVID or how it affected them and some can be reluctant to take a test. It can make it very difficult to tackle. They could be depriving themselves of the treatment they need and by the time they seek help, it could be too late.
I want others to understand all the facts
“Before I started talking to staff, I did my research about the advantages of being vaccinated and how it would help protect them. I wanted them to understand the benefits of being vaccinated, instead of feeling they were under duress. Nursing staff are going into patient’s homes, many of them extremely vulnerable, and we know this virus can be deadly.
“Finding out what worried staff was important. For some in the African community, religious beliefs came into it. They were listening to a lot of negative reports too. I told them to think about the advantages of having the vaccine, so they could protect their families and their patients. Some said they wanted to wait for a year to see what the effects might be, before they made a final decision.
“While some are still reluctant, I feel proud that I’ve managed to encourage several staff to be vaccinated. And once you persuade someone, often they will talk to family members and friends, convincing them that they should have the vaccine too. Of course, people have the right to say no, but I really want them to think hard about their own and others’ safety, and understand all the facts, before they make that decision.”
Kafeelat is a community matron and an RCN steward in London.
Kafeelat's story features in a new publication sharing RCN reps powerful and inspiring accounts of how they've supported members during the pandemic. Download and read Facing COVID-19: RCN reps share stories of the pandemic.
Key points for employers
- Making it easy for staff to get vaccinated is the best way to improve uptake. Allow staff to have the vaccine within working hours, or at a time and location that suits them.
- Supporting staff to make an informed choice about having the vaccine is more effective than forcing them to. A recent study has shown pressure from employers has the adverse effect, damaging relationships, eroding trust and hardening stances on declining vaccination.
- Health and care services are already short staffed. Actively moving people out of patient-facing roles will make this worse and affect staff morale.
- It’s important to take time to understand the concerns of those reluctant to have the vaccine. Staff must be able to make the decision in a supportive environment with the right information, encouragement and clear explanation of the benefit and value of the vaccine.
- Vaccination is only one measure of protection against COVID-19. Though very effective, it remains vital that other control measures, such as appropriate personal protective equipment and good ventilation is in place to minimise the risk of infection.