Covid vaccine failing to reach older people cared for at home, UK firm says

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

The Covid vaccine is failing to reach thousands of the elderly people who receive care in their own homes because they are too frail to travel to vaccination centres or fear infection if they do, a care provider has said.

Cera said only around 1% of the 10,000 elderly people it looked after in their own homes had received the jab, and less than a third of its carers had been vaccinated.

By contrast, around 75% of care home residents have been vaccinated, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said on Sunday. NHS England’s goal of getting all care home residents vaccinated by the end of last week was missed, but the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) target of completing the jabs by this coming Sunday is in reach.

One of the largest care home operators, Four Seasons Healthcare, said on Monday it had vaccinated more than 80% of residents and more than 60% of staff. The Orders of St John Trust, which operates 66 homes, said the same proportion of its residents had been vaccinated, but a smaller proportion of staff.

Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s medical director for primary care, told GPs earlier this month: “We are expecting all PCN local vaccination services to administer the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to care home residents and staff in the older adult care homes … at the latest by … Sunday 24 January.”

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While people being cared for at home are not in the same highest priority bracket as those in care homes, more than half of Cera’s clients are aged over 80, which puts them in the second highest priority bracket for the vaccine, and they are supposed to be vaccinated by 15 February.

The large majority remain unvaccinated, the group said, based on records its carers make of whether a client has been vaccinated or not. Cera believes the trend is likely to be reflected across the home care industry, which looks after around half a million people in the UK, although industry groups indicated that such data is not routinely collected and it could be difficult to be sure if a client had been vaccinated.

Dr Ben Maruthappu, the chief executive of Cera, said: “Whilst we were right to prioritise older people for vaccinations, we have totally overlooked the logistical and lifestyle challenges that many of them face in attending appointments.

“Our data points to a stark problem that needs to be addressed urgently. If those that are unable or unwilling to attend remote appointments aren’t vaccinated in their own homes, we’ll continue to see the virus spread among the most vulnerable and won’t be able to get the R rate down sufficiently.”

It said the difficulty of moving vulnerable residents from their homes to GP surgeries or vaccination centres to receive the jab, their fear of attending clinical settings and catching Covid, and a measure of vaccine hesitancy were behind the low numbers.

Cera is calling for care workers to be trained to administer jabs and for mobile units to be rolled out to get doses to vulnerable people being cared for in their homes. It said 29% of its workers had received the vaccine. Each of them will typically look after two or three clients a day in different settings.

Vic Rayner, the executive director of the National Care Forum, which represents not-for-profit care operators, said: “Often people receiving care at home are unable to travel to vaccination centres or surgeries, and therefore it will be important to understand what this data is telling us about the rollout of vaccinations to people who are housebound.”

The DHSC and NHS England have been approached for comment.

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