COVID-19: Care worker who refused coronavirus vaccine says employer's treatment made him feel 'worthless'

15 April 2021, 17:09 | Updated: 16 April 2021, 00:25

A care worker has told Sky News his treatment at the hands of his employer, when he said he didn't want to take the COVID-19 vaccine, made him feel "worthless".

It comes as the government has launched a consultation over whether it should be mandated for staff caring for elderly people in homes to be vaccinated.

Andy, not his real name, has worked for the same company for five years and although he isn't a full-time employee he has had regular shifts for that period.

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He claims that with just a few days' warning he was told all his future shifts would be cancelled, that he should hand back his pass and would be gone by the end of the week.

He says he wasn't even allowed to say goodbye to the clients he'd built bonds with.

"They said across the board if you haven't had the vaccine we're going to prioritise other people for shifts," he explained.

"I don't think I've ever felt so stressed. It took me a week or two of barely eating anything, I was just so stressed.

"I thought I was losing my job, I wasn't going to be able to pay my bills or feed my children."

In just a few days the company u-turned, his shifts were reinstated and he is now back at work, but he says he's been left feeling vulnerable and let down.

"I worked all the way through the pandemic," he says "and we have not had one case in our workplace".

"You feel worthless, like all the work's for nothing.

"We work for rubbish pay, we don't get any rewards or anything, you don't really get treated very nicely either, but it was just like, basically, if you don't do what we want, you won't have a job."

There are serious concerns about low uptake of the vaccine among care home staff.

The latest figures from NHS England show that, despite being a priority group, only 79.4% of care home staff looking after elderly residents are vaccinated.

That figure is just 69.1% in London, with the borough of Lambeth the worst in the country with only 50.1%.

The government has now launched a consultation over whether it should be mandated for care home staff, but are keen to stress it would be "a condition of deployment" not "a condition of employment".

When pushed on his reasons for not wanting to take the vaccine Andy says he's not a so-called anti-vaxxer.

"I'm young, I'm fit and healthy and take care of my health.

"The benefits to the vaccine don't outweigh the risks to me. They will for some people. If you imagine the elderly, the benefits will outweigh the risk.

"For me, at any age, it should always be a choice."

Regulars say that vaccines are safe and that the benefits of taking them far outweigh the risks.

But as the economy unlocks, the debate is likely to intensify. There is already fierce disagreement over whether so-called 'COVID status certificates' should be necessary to visit pubs, restaurants, sports stadiums and theatres.

And implementing a 'no jab, no job' policy is a conundrum likely to face employers beyond the care and health sectors. Many want more clarity and more guidance.

For Andy, although the situation at his work has calmed down for now, he's very worried about the coming months.

"It's not been the same since," he says.

"To be honest, it's like a ticking time bomb, you're just thinking when next? Are they going to do it? Are they going to try it again? I think if the government goes ahead and gives them the leeway to do it, then they're going to do it."