Care homes could face “catastrophic shortages” unless the government scraps its vaccination deadline for the sector’s workers, a union has warned.

Care workers in England must get their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by today and be double-jabbed by 11 November to keep their jobs.

Unison said the policy was partly to blame for the “severe staffing crisis”, with many care agencies now unable to provide emergency cover.

The union estimated that up to 70,000 care home workers in England may not be fully-vaccinated by the deadline, leaving many care homes in danger of closing.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Everyone that can have the vaccine should have the vaccine, but the government has persisted with a heavy-handed approach despite warnings from care employers of the dire consequences.

“This move is damaging a sector already on its knees and undermining trust in the vaccine.

“If roles can’t be filled, the level and volume of care offered will be reduced.

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“Instead of encouraging much-needed recruitment into care, the government is actively driving experienced staff away.”

GMB national officer Rachel Harrison added: “Forcing vaccination of our key workers is not the way to address vaccine hesitancy.

“Care is already facing a staffing black hole of 170,000 by the end of the year.

“Even in a best-case scenario we will lose tens of thousands of key workers if the jab is forced on them.

“How will care bosses deal with these huge staffing vacancies.

“How can they reassure people residents will receive safe care?”

Elderly people are at higher risk of serious complications or death from COVID-19, so those in England’s care homes are among the most vulnerable to the disease.

David Kelly of workplace management app Deputy, commented: “Many workers who have demonstrated their commitment to caring throughout the pandemic feel demoralised and undervalued.

“A number have explained they are not ‘anti vaxxers’ but have personal reasons for not wanting the vaccine, ranging from religious and cultural reasons, to health concerns.”