People may be able to hold hands with their loved ones in English care homes before all residents have had their second Covid vaccine dose, the care minister has said.
Helen Whately said she did not see why people would have to wait for a second dose, though visitors would still be required to wear PPE.
“I really, really want to open up visiting in care homes more,” Whately told Sky News on Thursday. “I don’t see that we have to wait for the second vaccination dose, I want us to open up sooner than that.”
She added: “We do have to be cautious. Most residents in care homes have only had their first dose, and some of them only very recently, so it will be step by step. I’m determined that we can see people go back … even if it’s to be able to hold hands again and see somebody who you haven’t been able to see very much in the last few months and over the last year – I really want to make that happen again.”
Whately has hinted previously that rules around visiting could be relaxed before second doses are administered, saying in early February that ministers were searching for ways to enable more indoor visiting within weeks.
But on Thursday she urged caution, telling BBC Breakfast: “There is still a way to go to see, for instance, whether the vaccine stops people from being infectious and how it plays through. Visiting will be taken step by step and we will, for instance, when people come back to more normal visiting, still be asking people to use PPE and follow those kinds of procedures.”
She was unwilling to say that all care home staff should be required to get inoculated, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that ministers preferred to focus on giving workers several opportunities to get the vaccine.
She said the government’s policy was to “make sure that health and social workers can get the vaccine and have all the information they need, and can get it really easily”.
Whately added: “We know from the evidence we’ve seen that makes a real difference, [as] we’ve learned from the flu vaccination programmes in the past and from what we’re seeing already with Covid. So for care home workers, making sure that teams go into the care homes not just once but multiple times, going at least four times, in order to offer the vaccine.”