Study: Why some care workers oppose mandatory vaccination
A new study from the University of Sheffield has explored why some care workers are opposed to mandatory vaccination and why the policy could make staff shortages worse.
There are already more than 100,000 vacancies in the care sector, and thousands of care workers are forecast to leave the sector following the mandatory vaccination deadline.
From 11 November 2021, everyone working in a care home in England must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 unless medically exempt. There are fears that this policy could lead to the loss of thousands of care workers and make staff shortages in an already struggling sector even worse.
Tom Hunt, Deputy Director of the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) at the University of Sheffield, conducted a review of evidence on mandatory vaccination, including the government's consultation into the topic. The study found that, although only a minority of care workers are vaccine hesitant, many that haven't been vaccinated say that it is due to the poor working conditions they are subjected to, such as zero hour contracts, a widespread lack of sick pay, and low pay.
The report claims that a high number of workers in the industry have been reluctant to get vaccinated because they are fearful of being ill for a day or two afterwards. While many people can take paid sick leave, most care workers would be forced to take unpaid leave for the time that they felt unwell, which can be difficult in a sector where the median hourly pay is just £9.01.
A survey by UNISON found that care workers were nearly twice as likely to decline vaccination if they had faced threats from their employer or had not received vaccination advice.
As a result, the report by Hunt calls for the government to engage with staff and provide them with better pay and conditions to alleviate financial concerns and remove practical barriers that can stop people from attending vaccine appointments.
The latest data shows that 87 percent of care home workers are fully vaccinated, and research has shown that when people are well informed and treated with respect they are more likely to be persuaded to be vaccinated, compared to when their employment is threatened.
Tom Hunt, lead author of the report, said: "Mandatory vaccination looks set to significantly deepen the staffing crisis in care. The most effective way to overcome vaccine hesitancy is through persuasion, not applying pressure, and removing barriers that make people anxious about vaccines. This means improving care workers' low pay and poor conditions which are central to understanding why a minority are hesitant to get vaccinated.
"Many dedicated care workers are exhausted after 18 months on the frontline of the pandemic. When their job is low-paid, stressful, has high exposure to COVID-19, and workers may feel under additional pressure to get vaccinated, we shouldn't be surprised if some choose to leave to find better-paid and less stressful work.
"The government is now introducing mandatory vaccination for frontline NHS staff. The health service is already facing acute pressures from underfunding, growing backlogs, and the ongoing pandemic. To avoid a similar staffing shortage in the NHS getting worse, lessons from the care sector will need to be learnt."