Care homes in North Wales should be allowed to refuse to hire staff who have not had a Covid jab unless they have a legitimate medical reason, say social care leaders.

Care Forum Wales, which represents nearly 500 independent providers, says it’s vitally important to protect vulnerable residents who are particularly at risk because they are mostly elderly and frail with serious underlying health conditions.

The latest figures show that since March 1 last year there have been 1,709 care home resident deaths in Wales with suspected or confirmed Covid-19.

According to chair Mario Kreft MBE, care homes were duty bound to do everything in their power to protect their residents and staff.

New evidence reportedly shows that a single dose of the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines cuts transmission by two thirds.

It’s believed around 20 per cent of care home staff in Wales have not had a jab yet and Mr Kreft said care home owners and managers were rightly encouraging existing staff to have the vaccine.

But he believed more needed to be done to ensure a higher percentage of staff was vaccinated because it was clear there were some who were reluctant to get the jab.

Mr Kreft said: “I think there are general concerns about this right across Wales. Some homes are doing incredibly well, we’ve heard stories of 100% take up but others are struggling.

“It only takes one person to bring one of the  new strains of the virus into vulnerable people.

“We know the more contagious Kent variant is now the dominant strain in Wales and there is also some evidence that it is also more lethal.  We are also having to contend with the dangers posed by other mutant strains.

“I think everybody who works in social care should, unless there’s a very good reason otherwise, get the jab and importantly be ready for a culture where we might have to have this each year for some years to come.

“Care Forum was ahead of the curve at the beginning of the pandemic in calling on care homes to lock down long before this was required by the Welsh and UK governments.

“We believe we now need to be proactive again so that we can continue to protect our residents and staff from this deadly virus.

“It is clearly sensible that care homes should be allowed to refuse to recruit anybody who has not been vaccinated.

“It is clear that, quite understandably, the families of residents will want assurances that the staff looking after their loved ones are vaccinated so that they are less likely to be able pass on the infection.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Care Forum Wales Council member Sanjiv Joshi.

He said: “If you’re working in a care home, your mission is to care and protect your residents – that’s your solemn promise.

“The science is very clear  that the vaccine  reduces serious symptoms and the number of deaths.

“Not only are you protecting the residents, but you are also protecting yourself and your family.

“Why would you not have the vaccine if it reduces the chances of you having a serious illness or dying.

“If we were dealing with smallpox nobody would be arguing about the need to have a jab – let’s not forget in UK,  we have already had 25,000 deaths related to Covid-19  in care homes.

“Unless you have a legitimate reason like a medical issue or a religious objection, you should be rushing to be vaccinated  .

“If one of your relatives is going to be in a care home, you would be more comfortable if the residents and staff were vaccinated.”