Boris Johnson is backing compulsory vaccine measures, while ministers consider extending them to all NHS staff.
Coronavirus vaccinations are to be legally required for care home staff who work with elderly and vulnerable people, under plans to be announced by ministers today.
The government is also considering extending the policy to all NHS staff – despite human rights warnings from groups representing nurses and doctors.
Ministers will announce the law change to the Health and Social Care Act 2008 after a five week consultation, amid concerns about take-up of vaccines among some of the 1.5 million people working in social care in England.
The move could lead to the government being sued under European human rights law, or equalities legislation. Groups representing carers have also warned it could trigger some staff quitting, rather than be immunised.
The plans, understood to be personally supported by Boris Johnson, will give carers 16 weeks to get vaccinated, or face losing their jobs.
According to official figures, 151,000 NHS workers (just over one in ten) are unvaccinated, while more staff haven’t had the jab in care homes – around 16 per cent.
Take-up is particularly low among ethnic minorities, and in London. The lowest rates amongst care home staff are in Barking and Dagenham in east London, Barnet in north London and Barnsley – where more than a third of care home staff haven’t had the vaccine.
Nearly a fifth of NHS workers in London are unvaccinated, and more than a quarter have not had their second dose.
The British Medical Association has said that although it encourages vaccination amongst NHS staff, the government should exercise caution as “compulsion is a blunt instrument that carries its own risks”.
Likewise, The Royal College of Nursing has previously warned it has “serious concerns around mandating vaccines.”
“Like the wider population, health and care staff are a diverse group and there are both physical and societal barriers for some on the take up for the vaccine,” the RCN continued.
“The RCN do not support staff being made or coerced into having the vaccine … [and] do not believe that this approach is effective in improving uptake of vaccination in staff.”