Persuasion better than force in dealing with vaccine hesitancy, minister says

The minister in charge of the vaccine rollout has said the Government will seek to persuade people to have a Covid-19 jab rather than forcing them into it.

Nadhim Zahawi’s comments come after it emerged that as many as 21% of care home staff working for one provider have declined to take the vaccine.

Elsewhere, one of the UK’s largest plumbing firms is demanding staff get the jab.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Zahawi said the Government still favoured persuasion over force.

“I think, as the Prime Minister has said, we’re not the sort of country that forces people to take vaccines, we want to do it by persuasion.”

His words come after news that Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers, is insisting that employees have the jab.

Speaking to LBC Radio, Mr Mullins said: “It’s an employer’s right to protect and look after their employees.”

He said he would not put staff and customers at risk unnecessarily, and that in future the company would not be taking on anybody that had not been vaccinated.

But when asked about Pimlico Plumbers’ policy, Mr Zahawi replied: “I think that is discriminatory.”

He added: “We’re not that sort of country and I think it’s important we do it by persuasion.”

Data obtained by the PA news agency has shown between 5% and 21% of care home staff offered a vaccine have declined it.

One large UK care home group, which asked to remain anonymous, said more than half of residents and 36.8% of staff have had at least one dose as of January 14.

However, 21% of staff and 2.7% of residents offered the vaccine had chosen not to take it up, with data suggesting that younger workers were more likely to be hesitant.

There is currently no centralised data from the NHS or Government on how many care home residents and staff have been given the vaccine, and how many have refused a jab.

However, Boris Johnson said on Friday that almost 40% of elderly residents have been vaccinated.

Nadra Ahmed, from the National Care Association (NCA), said there has been a reduction in refusals following a strong push from providers to address fears and anxieties.

She said information from members and other industry bodies suggests around 6%-8% of care staff still remain nervous or resistant due to health and cultural reasons, down from 18%-20% at the start of the rollout.

But she said many are now being persuaded as they see colleagues get the jab, while the NCA is seeking legal advice on whether care workers could be forced to take the jab.

As of January 14, 47% of residents and 37% of staff in the 200-plus homes run by Barchester Healthcare had been given at least one dose of one of the approved vaccines.

It is understood that 5% of staff offered a jab have refused it.

The figure for staff refusals at Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare’s 46 care homes is around 8% of those offered, and just 1% for residents, with more than half of residents now vaccinated.