The Department of Health NI has said the Covid-19 vaccine remains voluntary amongst care home staff in Northern Ireland.
It comes after the Derry News revealed that three out of ten care home workers have turned down the Covid vaccine in the Western Trust area – numbers reflected across NI.
Care home residents and staff were amongst the first priority group in the North.
It has emerged that a number of major care home operators in the UK have insisted that all current staff be vaccinated and advised any new staff, ‘no jab, no job’.
The British government has said it will leave it up to businesses to decide whether they make vaccines mandatory for workers.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also announced a review of vaccine certificates or passports.
Proof of vaccination could allow people to travel or attend large events.
However, there has been a public backlash with more than 200,000 people signing a petition urging the government not to introduce passports.
Outlining the position in Northern Ireland, a Department of Health spokesperson said: “The uptake of the vaccine in Northern Ireland remains a voluntary process.”
On Friday Health Minister Robin Swann hailed the care home vaccination programme as an ‘important milestone in the battle against Covid-19’.
The drive to administer first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccine across all of Northern Ireland’s care homes started in December and has been completed, Minister Swann confirmed.
He said the last remaining homes have now been visited.
“The programme schedule has allowed sufficient time for outbreaks of infection to conclude and vaccination to subsequently be offered to those care homes.”
But the Minister has warned that measures to protect care home residents and staff from coronavirus will not be relaxed at this stage.
These measures include strict infection prevention and control practices, maintenance of social distancing, use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and a programme of regular asymptomatic testing.
An important epidemiology study is now commencing which will examine the impact of vaccination on care homes in NI. The learning emerging from this work will be of significant interest.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Lourda Geoghegan recognised that not all residents or staff took the vaccine.
She spelt out the key factors behind the continuing precautionary approach.
Dr Geoghegan said no vaccine in history has ever been 100% effective.
It is anticipated that a small minority of people, including some care home residents, may not derive full benefits from vaccination against Covid-19.
“The current evidence tells us that those who are vaccinated and protected from serious ill-health may still acquire the virus.
“Furthermore, definitive data is still awaited on the impact of vaccination on transmission of the virus.
“It cannot be ruled out that some vaccinated people could still pass the virus on to others.
“While provisional figures for the care home vaccination programme show a high rate of uptake among both residents and staff, not everyone took the opportunity to receive the vaccine,” she added.
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