UNISON guidance for branches with members working in social care on COVID-19 immunisation – December 2020

What is happening?

On 2nd December 2020 a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech was approved for use in the UK. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Other vaccines are being developed. Vaccines will become available via the NHS only once they have been thoroughly tested to make sure they are safe and effective.

When is it happening?

The vaccine will be available from the week beginning 7th December onward. Other Covid19 vaccinations are likely to be available in the coming weeks. Further vaccines will only be available once they have been thoroughly tested to make sure they are safe and effective.

Preparations for the delivery of the vaccine are well underway. It is important that employers share information and work with social care staff and their union to address any concerns members may have.

Why is the vaccine important in social care?

Tragically, social care has has been hit hard by the pandemic, leading to loss of lives among the elderly, the vulnerable and the care workforce. Vaccination is a crucially important to protect social care workers and the people they care for from Covid-19. The vaccine will help to prevent Covid-19 from spreading in social care settings.

Who will be offered the vaccine?

At first, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be offered to:

  • people who live in care homes and care home workers
  • people aged 80 and over
  • health and social care workers in England (including domiciliary care workers)

The management of the wider vaccination programme for staff will be handled separately by each administration in England, Scotland, Cymru/Wales and Northern Ireland.

Who will deliver the vaccine?

The NHS will deliver the vaccine. Everyone delivering the vaccine will be subject to standardised training and sign-off process. The UK Government has approved changes to medicine regulations which will allow additional groups of health professionals to administer vaccines under NHS and local authority occupational health schemes. This means additional groups including midwives, nursing associates, operating department practitioners, paramedics, physiotherapists and pharmacists’ can administer vaccines through NHS occupational health schemes. Regulations also allow local authority OH schemes to do this.

Where and how will the vaccine be delivered?

NHS hospital hubs will be the main centres for delivery, although delivery will not only take place at hospitals. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored at cold temperatures. Once thawed the vaccine can be kept in a fridge for up to five days for use locally. Early indications are that it is unlikely the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be offered in care home settings, although that cannot be entirely ruled out. This means that care workers will be required to travel to vaccination sites to receive the vaccine. Future variations on a Covid-19 vaccine may be more mobile, and therefore more likely to be delivered in care homes and other care settings.

UNISON priorities in social care

  • Informed choice and avoiding a punitive approach from employers

UNISON’s top priority is to ensure safety in the workplaces of our members working in social care. This thoroughly tested and independently verified vaccine, delivered by the NHS, is a means to making social care workplaces safer.

UNISON has strongly advocated for care and health staff to be given priority access to the vaccination. However, as with the flu vaccination, care workers should not be forced to receive the COVID-19 immunisation. We want to ensure that employers make the vaccine easily accessible to all staff who are eligible and provide them with the full information they need to make an informed decision.

Getting vaccinated must not be made a condition of employment or access to public services and that staff should be given paid time-off to get vaccinated. The government has also indicated that they do not wish to see individuals forced to take the vaccine.

We would encourage all our members to be cautious in relation to the information they consume and share regarding vaccinations. Trusted and authoritative sources of information such as the NHS and UNISON are a good place to begin for those seeking more information.

We are here to support you

Should you have any queries regarding the COVID-19 vaccination, please do not hesitate

to get in touch on 020 7729 4001 or info@unisoncvob.org.uk