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 Covid-19 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?

53 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.

Further Information

1) 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 will be seeking a commitment from social care employers that there will be no negative implications for staff who refuse the vaccine. We will also seek confirmation from employers that immunisation will not influence decisions made about terms and conditions such as re-deployment, shielding, or pay.

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.

2) Paid time for travelling to and from vaccination sites and receiving the vaccine

Some employers in the social care sector will behave responsibly and do all they can to facilitate access to the vaccine for eligible care staff. Sadly, we can predict that some will not.

Eligibility for and receiving the vaccine is a direct result of employment and therefore time spent travelling to the place where the vaccine is delivered and receiving the vaccine should be paid at the normal rate. These are the arrangements which will be applied for all NHS staff and social care staff should not be treated differently. Employers who fail to do this are creating a disincentive for workers to be vaccinated. As the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is likely to be delivered at mass vaccination sites away from workplaces, it is particularly important that this time is paid at the normal hourly rate.

UNISON has repeatedly sought assurances from the Department of Health and Social Care that employers will be told to offer paid time off for travelling to vaccination sites and receiving the vaccine. We have also asked that travel expenses are covered. At the time of writing, we have yet to receive clarification on this point.

3) Safety and protection of the vaccine

The roll out of all Covid-19 vaccinations are subject to approval by the UK Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA). This process and the safeguards involved are described here. The Agency has given cast-iron reassurances that the safety, quality and efficacy of any vaccine has been thoroughly scientifically assessed.

UNISON has insisted that the same rigour is applied in the roll out of the vaccine. As a result, those administering the vaccine must be trained and certified as competent and robust procedures for the supply and safe storage of the vaccination must be in place.

4) Ownership and partnership working

UNISON has demanded that lessons are learned from the disastrous involvement of private companies in Test and Trace so that management of the vaccination programme is kept entirely within the public sector. We have been reassured the management of the vaccination for health and care workers will be handled in this way.

Social care employers should be working closely with UNISON branches, local councils and the NHS to ensure this programme is planned effectively and maintains the trust of staff.

5) Continued need for caution

It is important to note that the Covid-19 vaccine does not remove the need for continued public health measures to tackle the virus for everyone involved in delivering social care. Social distancing (where possible) and wearing the right PPE continue to be vitally important.

Dec 11, 2020