The Prime Minister has said there has been a recent “big increase” in the uptake of vaccinations by care home staff, as he announced that all older care home residents in England had been offered a jab.
Boris Johnson said that “virtually all” elderly care home residents had received their first coronavirus vaccination or been given an appointment for it.
Speaking during a visit to a vaccination centre in Batley, West Yorkshire, Mr Johnson said the take-up of the vaccine among care home staff has been “an issue” but the Government was “working fast” to sort it out.
His comments came as industry leaders said efforts to vaccinate care home workers should be stepped up.
Mr Johnson told reporters at the Al-Hikmah Centre: “We’re working fast to sort it out and we’re now seeing a big increase in uptake in care home staff and that’s a great thing to see, and I’ve seen in the last few weeks a big increase in the receptivity of care home staff to the vaccinations.”
He added: “One of the distinctions people might make is that, although care home staff are certainly capable of spreading the disease, they’re in principle less likely to suffer it severely or to die.”
Downing Street on Monday released a video of the Prime Minister watching a 97-year-old care home resident receiving her first dose of the vaccine.
In a possible reference to his own brush with coronavirus, the elderly resident Jeanette told him: “You’re looking a lot better.”
The Government’s vaccines delivery plan had originally said it was the “ambition” to offer the vaccine to not just elderly care home residents, but also the staff who look after them, by the end of January.
Number 10 said all eligible care home staff have been offered a coronavirus vaccine.
But Vic Rayner, the executive director of the National Care Forum (NCF), which represents not-for-profit providers, earlier said just 27% of its member organisations had 70% or more of their staff vaccinated as of early last week, with access to doses the main issue.
And she warned there was still a “big, big task” to vaccinate care home workers by the middle of the month target.
Nadra Ahmed, executive chairman of the National Care Association (NCA), representing small and medium-sized providers, said there were issues of access and supply and some staff were refusing a jab due to “cultural issues”.
In mid-January, the PA news agency disclosed that up to a fifth of staff in some care home groups have refused a coronavirus vaccine when offered one.
Care minister Helen Whately told the BBC earlier that vaccine teams were continuing to work through the social care workforce by February 15.
“We know that there were some staff that were worried about the idea of having the vaccination,” she told BBC Breakfast.
“But what I am hearing is that when the vaccination teams go into the care homes, staff are coming forward.
“Some might be nervous, but when they see their colleagues getting the vaccination, when they see that it’s all right – we really are seeing good take-up from care home workers.”
Shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said: “It is essential that ministers now do everything possible to ensure care home staff take up their vaccines, move swiftly to vaccinate care homes for people with disabilities and crucially, home care staff who care for elderly and disabled people in their own homes.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said earlier that official figures are expected to confirm that the vaccine had been offered to residents and staff at every eligible care home with older residents across England.
A “small number” have had their visits “briefly delayed” for safety reasons due to local outbreaks, but these will be visited and vaccinated “as soon as NHS staff are able to go into those homes and do so”.
Mr Johnson said the achievement was “a crucial milestone in our ongoing race to vaccinate the most vulnerable against this deadly disease.”
He told reporters in Batley: “We’re very pleased we’ve been able to give all elderly care home residents, virtually all elderly care home residents, have now been given their first jab or a slot for the first jab.
“That’s very important for getting the spread of the virus down, getting the serious illness and fatalities down.
“We must make sure we go forward with the second jab for everybody.
“A few have already had the second jab but everybody will get one within 12 weeks of their first jab.”
Mr Johnson said he wanted to see care home residents and their families reunited “as soon as we sensibly and safely can” but that it needed to be done cautiously.
He said: “We want to improve that as fast as we can, but we have to do it cautiously and we need to be certain that the vaccinations are really working and delivering what they need to do.”
He added: “But there is certainly hope ahead for care homes and for care home visits.”