Vaccination as a condition of deployment (VCOD)
On 6 January 2022, the government passed legislation to officially mandate Covid vaccines for some workers in health and social care settings in England. The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) (No. 2) Regulations 2022 comes into force on 1 April 2022. This followed existing requirements for those entering a CQC-regulated care home in England to work to be fully vaccinated against Covid, unless an exemption applied.
Under the Regulations, from 1 April 2022, vaccination will be a condition of deployment for workers in health and social care settings in England, who are employed or engaged for the provision of a CQC-regulated activity. This includes individuals who are deployed to undertake direct treatment or personal care as part of a CQC-regulated activity, who have direct, face-to-face contact with patients or service users. The Regulations also apply to non-clinical ancillary workers who enter areas which are utilised for the provision of a CQC-regulated activity and who may have social contact with patients, such as receptionists, porters and cleaners. Agency workers, volunteers, locums, students, trainees and contractors are all included within the scope of the requirements.
Affected workers have a 12-week grace period to provide evidence that they are fully vaccinated or exempt, beginning on 6 January 2022 and ending on 31 March 2022. This means workers must receive their first dose of the vaccine by 3 February 2022, to allow for the necessary 8 weeks between doses.
There are exemptions for those who are: under the age of 18; clinically exempt (including short-term exemptions); taking part or have previously taken part in a clinical trial for a Covid vaccine; and for individuals who don’t have direct, face-to-face contact with patients or service users. There will be no exemption for those who refuse vaccination due to religious beliefs.
Unless the employee is exempt, anyone working in an affected setting will be under a legal requirement to be fully vaccinated. Continuing to deploy an existing employee who contravenes the requirement is likely to be unlawful. Employers will need to redeploy an employee to an alternative role which does not have direct, face to face patient contact, who would otherwise be working in breach of the vaccine requirement. If redeployment is not possible, the employee will need to be dismissed.
The first step for employers is to review and assess which roles are likely to fall within the scope of the new regulations. Employers should then inform these employees of the government’s confirmed plans to require them to have the vaccine and the potential outcomes if they do not provide evidence of vaccination or exemption by the deadline. Organisations should actively support uptake of vaccination through communication and engagement with staff members. One-to-one conversations approached with empathy and respect were found to be the best way to convert hesitancy to uptake. It can be useful to remind employees of any policies permitting time off work for vaccine appointments and, where it is not already offered, providing paid time off can further encourage vaccination.
Employers should also engage with employment agencies and education institutions who provide temporary/bank workers and students/trainees/volunteers, to ensure the necessary evidence is gathered for them. Once complete, managers should prepare to undertake dismissal procedures of those employees who would otherwise be breaching the regulations if they do not provide evidence by 31 March 2022.