There are growing calls for care home workers in Wales to have a Covid-19 jab as a condition of their employment.
The plea from Care Forum Wales, which represents nearly 500 independent social care providers, was given added momentum after the Department of Health and Social Care announced a five-week consultation on the idea in England.
It will effectively make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for staff working in care homes with older residents across the border.
Like the UK Government, Care Forum Wales believes that making vaccines a condition of employment would protect vulnerable residents from the virus.
Experts say 80 per cent of staff and 90 per cent of residents in care homes need to be vaccinated to provide a minimum level of protection.
According to Care Forum Wales chair Mario Kreft MBE, care homes were duty bound to do everything in their power to protect their residents and staff.
Evidence, he said, had shown that even a single dose of the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines cuts transmission by two thirds.
Mr Kreft added: “It is good news that the consultation is occurring in England because hopefully this can pave the way for a similar approach here in Wales.
“The roll out of the vaccine has been a huge success but it would be a big mistake to think we are out of the woods just yet.
“Experts keeping telling us that a third wave of this terrible virus is now inevitable – it’s a case of when not if.
“In terms of staff being inoculated, some homes are doing incredibly well, we’ve heard stories of 100% take up but others are struggling.
“It only takes one person to bring one of the new strains of the virus into vulnerable people.
“We know the more contagious Kent variant is now the dominant strain in Wales and there is also some evidence that it is also more lethal. We are also having to contend with the dangers posed by other mutant strains which may be more resistant to the vaccine.
“I think everybody who works in social care should, unless there’s a very good reason otherwise, get the jab and importantly be ready for a culture where we might have to have this each year for some years to come.
“At a time like this, we really need to be thinking of other people, not just ourselves – rather than potentially putting residents, colleagues and possibly members of our own families at risk. We should use every lever at our disposal to ensure this does not happen.
“Care Forum was ahead of the curve at the beginning of the pandemic in calling on care homes to lock down long before this was required by the Welsh and UK governments.
“We believe we now need to be proactive again so that we can continue to protect our residents and staff from this deadly virus.
“It is clearly sensible that care homes should be allowed to refuse to recruit anybody who has not been vaccinated.
“It is clear that, quite understandably, the families of residents will want assurances that the staff looking after their loved ones are vaccinated so that they are less likely to be able pass on the infection.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Care Forum Wales Council member Sanjiv Joshi.
He said: “If you’re working in a care home, your mission is to care and protect your residents – that’s your solemn promise.
“The science is very clear that the vaccine reduces serious symptoms and the number of deaths.
“Not only are you protecting the residents, but you are also protecting yourself and your family.
“Why would you not have the vaccine if it reduces the chances of you having a serious illness or dying.
“If we were dealing with smallpox nobody would be arguing about the need to have a jab – let’s not forget in the UK, we have already had 25,000 deaths related to Covid-19 in care homes.
“If one of your relatives is going to be in a care home, you would be more comfortable if the residents and staff were vaccinated.”
Some care home companies have already introduced the requirement for staff including Barchester Healthcare, which has eight care homes in Wales.
Chief executive Dr Pete Calveley said: “Barchester believes the vaccination programme has transformed the outlook for the vulnerable residents in older people care homes, a significant proportion of whom will not acquire full immunity despite being vaccinated.
“We have not lightly introduced our vaccine policy, but we take the view that providing safe care for those we care for is our paramount obligation.
“As the chief medical officer has said, it is a professional duty for care home staff to accept the vaccine unless there is a medical reason they should not.”