The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) has advised employers that although they cannot force staff to have the COVID-19 vaccine, they should encourage them to do so.
The professional body has launched new guidance for companies to help them understand their responsibilities towards staff, and support them as the vaccine rollout continues and they return to the workplace.
Guidance includes encouraging vaccination, adopting a vaccination policy, planning for employees who cannot have the jab, and employees who may be hesitant or refuse.
Peter Cheese, chief executive of CIPD, said: “The widescale vaccine rollout really is uncharted territory for employers. Many are confused as to what their role in it is, to protect their workforce, business and customers.
“The UK government hasn’t made the vaccine compulsory so neither can employers. Nor should they be restricting people coming to work based on whether they have had the vaccine. Instead, employers – in line with official public health guidance – should consider promoting the importance of staff getting the vaccine and highlight official advice to show its safety and effectiveness.
“Many employers already do this in the winter months for the flu jab so will have experience of encouraging staff to look after their physical health and wellbeing in this way.”
Cheese also warned that employers must not rush to get employees back to the workplace, highlighting that it will be many months before most working age people will have received the vaccine.
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Britain is currently leading the continent’s vaccination race, after becoming the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer (PFE) jab.
In December, the NHS began administering the Pfizer-BioNTech (BNTX) vaccine, followed by the Oxford AstraZeneca (AZN.L) one. A third vaccine, from Moderna (MRNA), was also approved, with others in the pipeline.
Around 13 million people have been vaccinated (with a first dose) so far in the UK, with around the majority of over-80s receiving the jab, as well as elderly residents in care homes.
Seven mass vaccine centres have now opened in England as the government aims to offer vaccinations to 15 million people in the UK by mid-February.
Ashton Gate football stadium in Bristol, Epsom racecourse in Surrey, the Excel Centre where London's Nightingale hospital is based, Newcastle's Centre for Life, the Manchester Tennis and Football Centre, Robertson House in Stevenage and Birmingham's Millennium Point will offer vaccines to people aged 80 and older, along with health and care staff.
As part of the vaccines delivery plan, the government also hopes that all adults can be vaccinated by the autumn. It plans to have 2,700 vaccine sites across the country.
The official estimate of the R number — how many people each infected person then reinfects — is between 0.7 and 0.9 for the UK, with new infections falling by 2% to 5% per day.
On Thursday, a further 678 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported.
Matt Hancock, health secretary, said last week: “My plan is that we should be able to offer a vaccine to everyone in categories 1-9, that's all the over 50s, by May. Lots of things have got to go right to hit that goal, especially supply, which is the rate-limiting factor.”
The top nine priority vaccination groups, which are set by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), also includes people aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions.
The Cabinet Office also announced that the most vulnerable groups would receive a jab by polling day at the latest.
In a press release, it said: “The UK's vaccination programme is planned to have reached all nine priority cohorts by May, meaning that the government can commit to go ahead with these polls with confidence.”
The government plans to give councils an extra £31m ($41m) for plastic screens in polling stations and hand sanitiser to make the polls Covid-safe. People who are shielding will be encouraged to vote by post.
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