Ministry: Refusing COVID-19 vaccine should mean care home work ban

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The care home in question in Halliste, VIljandi County. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Individuals who refuse a coronavirus vaccine when offered one should be barred from working in an old people's or other care home, a social affairs ministry spokesperson says, after three elderly residents of a Viljandi County facility where staff allegedly refused a vaccine subsequently died.

Rait Kuuse, Ministry of Social Affairs undersecretary, told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Tuesday night that those who refuse a vaccine should not be allowed to work with high-risk people such as the elderly.

"We are having had a very heated debate with care home staff right now on whether or not they should be vaccinated," Kuuse told AK after confirming he had seen the reports of the deaths.

"This concerns a cross-section of society as a whole - there are those who are simply hesitant; there are also also those who come up with some strange theories as to why they won't get a vaccine," he went on.

"n general, it should be said that in the future, people who are not prepared to protect themselves and others with science-based tools, such as vaccines, should not work in a care institution."

Regional daily Sakala (link in Estonian) reported that first responders, including the police, found three residents when the attended the care home, called Mulgi Häärber, in the village of Halliste, about 180 km south of Tallinn, who were in a condition the attendees described as difficult. Two of the patients were hospitalized, one was already past that stage, Sakala reported.

All three are now dead.

The prosecutor's office has already initiated criminal proceedings, Sakala adds.

Rait Kuuse said that any outstanding care homes whose staff had not yet been vaccinated (which he said was one, but did not name Mülgi Haaber directly – ed.) will soon have their inoculations once consent had been obtained.

Today, we can still see that the majority is on its way there to get vaccinated, which is, in fact, very necessary in terms of care facilities, especially in the fight against the pandemic.

The Halliste home saw, when the story broke nearly two weeks ago, well over 20 residents – over half its complement – infected with COVID-19, along with six staff. This leaves only two staff behind to care for the remaining residents.

Kuuse also suggested the dividing line of responsibilities with three relevant authorities – the Health Board (Terviseamet), the State Agency of Medicines (Raviamet) and the Social Insurance Board (Sotsiaalkindlustusamet). with the latter most significant as the licensing body for care homes, might be partly the cause of problems, along with the sheer number of general old people's homes (over 200), which provide a whole range of different types of care and have also been under enormous pressure since the pandemic began.

Care home coronavirus outbreaks were rife in 2020, particularly in the autumn, but the number of reported outbreaks has faded since then; following rising rates in general, the Health Board no longer provides its daily data with information on specific outbreaks in the workplace, family, school, care home or other place where people congregate.

More vigilance is needed, Kuuse added, while noting that all recipients of a COVID-19 vaccine have to give their informed consent. While no power can force them to give that consent, those who refuse ought not to be working in a care home environment, he reiterated.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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