Less than one in five adult social care staff have been vaccinated against flu or received their autumn booster jab for Covid-19, according to government figures.
The low rates come with the two viruses being a significant cause of the current severe pressures on the NHS and amid significant workforce shortages in social care.
The Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) monthly adult social care data, released last week, showed that, as of the week ending 18 December 2022:
- 17.9% of staff in older adult care homes had received an autumn booster for Covid and 13.8% had had a flu vaccine for the 2022-23 winter season.
- 15.8% of staff in younger adult care homes had received a Covid booster and 11.8% a flu vaccine.
- 15.7% of domiciliary care staff had received their Covid booster and 11.7% a flu vaccine.
NHS England is currently urging social care staff to get both the Covid booster and the flu vaccine, to help protect the people they care for, as well as themselves and their families.
During December, 7,273 beds were taken up by Covid-19 patients on average, and 2,925 taken up by people with flu, compared with 33 flu beds and 7,055 Covid beds in December 2021, it said last week.
This was among the sources of current NHS pressures that have resulted in bed occupancy and the number of ambulance callouts reaching record levels this winter.
The relatively low vaccination rates also come amid severe shortages of social care staff.
The vacancy rate for adult care staff in England climbed from 7% to 10.7% in the year to March 2022, and has increased since, to 11.2% in October 2022, according to Skills for Care data from a selection of providers.
The situation is particularly bad in home care, where 14.1% of posts were vacant as of October last year, up from 13.2% in March 2022.
The DHSC figures showed that staff absence due to Covid remained relatively low, at 0.6% of care home and home care staff, in the week up to 14 December 2022. This is down from highs of 2.9% for care home staff and just under 5% of domiciliary care workers in January last year.
However, social care staff appear to have been worst affected by long Covid, among occupational groups, with an estimated 5.5% of staff reporting symptoms such as fatigue and problems concentrating several weeks after being infected with the virus.
Barriers to vaccination
In response to the level of vaccination rates among social care staff, the Homecare Association said true uptake may be higher than the published figures, but there were also barriers to staff getting jabbed.
“The Homecare Association strongly supports vaccination of the homecare workforce and we lobbied hard, right from the beginning, to ensure it was as easy as possible for homecare workers to access Covid-19 vaccinations and every year we encourage uptake of the flu jab,” said chief executive Jane Townson.
“Many care workers have had multiple jabs over the past few years and vaccine fatigue may be setting in, coupled with the Covid-19 vaccination not preventing infection and some perceiving it as “just a cold”. Others fear a reaction to the vaccines, which could mean they have to take time off work without pay, as zero-hour contracts are common in home care. There are questions about accuracy of the data on vaccination uptake.
“Care workers may choose not to disclose their vaccination status and, with current operational pressures, many managers do not have time to chase staff to collect data. It is important that we continue to encourage vaccine uptake through persuasion and address genuine fears that some have.”