politics

Bump supermarket workers and police up vaccine list says Tony Blair-backed plan


Supermarket workers and police should be bumped up to the first phase of the vaccine rollout according to plans backed by Tony Blair.

Ministers face fresh pressure to roll out jabs to Britain’s vital key workers after the idea was unveiled by the former PM’s Tony Blair Institute.

The Institute says 1.5million “food and necessary goods workers” should be added on to the first phase along with firefighters, paramedics, police, pharmacy staff and those working in the vaccine pipeline.

In total that would add around 1.75million people to the 32million already in the first phase of the rollout.

Currently the first phase is not vaccinating anyone by job title, apart from NHS and care workers.



Police and other first responders would also be bumped up the list, according to the plan
Police and other first responders would also be bumped up the list, according to the plan (file photo)

Instead it is focusing on 32million people by age and health status – including all over-50s, care home residents, shielders, and other people at risk due to health conditions.

In an article for the Mirror (below), Mr Blair’s advisors Ryan Wain and Daniel Sleat say the 15million most vulnerable – due to get their first dose by February 15 – should still get top priority.

But they say key workers should be able to join an “on-demand waiting list” to scoop up any leftover vaccine supply that is available at short notice.

Then, after February 15, key workers should then be added to a “parallel stream” and be vaccinated at the same time as the 17million people aged 50 to 70 or at risk.

Under the Institute’s plan, the nation’s 500,000 teachers and 600,000 transport workers would only be in the second phase of the vaccine rollout, but would be at the top of the priority list for that phase.



The plan has been drawn up by ex-PM Tony Blair's Institute
The plan has been drawn up by ex-PM Tony Blair’s Institute

Also prioritised in the second phase would be key retail and hospitality workers.

The advisors write: “Preventing serious illness or death is rightly our central mission. As the facts change, however, so should our strategy.

“We are not suggesting a deviation away from protecting the vulnerable, but rather expanding eligibility for phase one vaccines to include priority key workers.

Tory MPs in the Covid Recovery Group have demanded lockdown is eased from March 8 – but No10 has refused to rule out lockdown dragging on until the summer.

Mr Blair’s advisors argue: “This new posture can ensure, by the spring, that not only those most at risk are protected, but we can begin to reopen our economy with confidence.”

Most deaths from Covid-19 have been among the elderly, and ministers say giving all over-50s and vulnerable people the jab can prevent up to 99% of deaths.

But there have also been high-profile deaths among key workers and calls are mounting to give groups such as police and teachers the jab.

Today it emerged PC Michael Warren, a 37-year-old Met Police officer and father, died after testing positive for Covid-19.

A Tesco superstore in Stretford was also closed at the weekend after it was hit with a Covid outbreak which has infected up to 50 staff members and left one employee dead.

Prioritising key workers for vaccination

By Ryan Wain, strategic adviser to Tony Blair, and Daniel Sleat, special adviser to Tony Blair

The original objective for rolling out the vaccine was to reduce the severity, and ultimately the mortality, of Covid-19. Stemming from this the logical strategy has been to prioritise the most vulnerable who are more susceptible to severe illness. This group, primarily those aged over 70 and with underlying conditions, are accountable for the vast majority of deaths.

An additional objective should now be adopted. The vaccine strategy should reduce the spread of the virus among those most at risk of catching and therefore most likely to transmit Covid-19. Recent data from Israel and early AstraZeneca trial data indicate that vaccines are effective at reducing disease occurrence and transmissibility of the virus. The data from Israel’s highly effective vaccine rollout suggest transmissibility is reduced, and Phase III data on the AstraZeneca vaccine (which is easier to store and administer than the Pfizer vaccine) indicated that the “vaccine could reduce virus transmission from an observed reduction in symptomatic infections”. The evidence is continuing to build positively in both instances.

This information, particularly that emerging from Israel, requires a fresh look at who is prioritised for vaccination.

Based on the emerging information on reduced transmissibility after vaccination, we suggest accelerating and broadening the scope of the “key worker” phase of the strategy. In the grand scheme of things, this group is small in number but likely to be responsible for spreading more of the disease. We know that Covid is likely to have a low k number – the so-called super-spreader phenomenon. Vaccinating a bigger key worker group earlier on could have a disproportionately positive impact on case numbers and expedite the reopening of the economy.

It is vital our health and care workers are vaccinated, and they rightly sit at the apex of the “key worker” group. The Government has indicated that the first phase of the vaccine strategy will prioritise those over 50, with key workers then looked at in phase two.

Existing supply of vaccines should remain solely for those initially prioritised in the existing Phase One framework, but any additional supply should be directed towards an expanded group of key workers, set out below. The Government must commit to a ‘zero wastage’ approach that means any open vials aren’t thrown away at the end of the day but instead given to an on-demand waiting list, made up of key workers who live nearby and can arrive at a GP surgery, vaccine centre or vaccination station at short notice. Currently, the predicted wastage of vaccines is 5% which could mean 10,000 a day based on current numbers.

Alongside the very vulnerable, the following groups of people should be included in an expanded phase one:

PRIORITY KEY WORKERS

  • First Responders (Fire Services, Ambulance & Police): 211,000
  • Food & necessary goods workers: circa 1.5 million people work in food retail.
  • Pharmacy staff: circa 40,000.
  • Vaccine pipeline: all workers involved in the production and distribution of the vaccine, including manufacture of vaccines for variants. Circa 3,000 (AstraZeneca/ Oxford staff, manufacturing staff, regulatory staff and clinical trial nurses).

TOTAL: circa 1.75 million people.

During the second phase of the vaccine programme we then suggest the following key workers are prioritised:

ADDITIONAL KEY WORKERS

  • All teachers: circa 500,000.
  • Key travel workers: there are circa 600,000 key transport workers in the UK.
  • Key retail staff: there are overall around 2.9 million retail workers in the UK. Only a proportion of these are frontline public-facing roles and many of these fall within the food and necessary goods category. There are 287,000 retail outlets in the UK.
  • Key hospitality workers: around 3 million people work in hospitality and tourism. Again, only a proportion of this number work in frontline roles.

TOTAL: Government to work with industry and unions to identify precise number of frontline staff in these sectors. Those most in contact with the public should be prioritised. We believe a number of 3 million is a helpful start (based on vaccinating all teachers, key transport workers, at least two people in each retail outlet, as well as half of all hospitality workers).

Those on the frontline during lockdown, particularly those working tirelessly in our supermarkets, are not simply at risk in terms of the health but critically also in transmitting the virus. Vaccinating them will help us bring the spread of the virus under control.

This is especially true in regard to our schools. It is critical this period of school closure is not simply “dead time” but is used to vaccinate all our teachers in preparation for the return of in-person classes as soon as possible.

Preventing serious illness or death is rightly our central mission. As the facts change, however, so should our strategy. We are not suggesting a deviation away from protecting the vulnerable, but rather expanding eligibility for phase one vaccines to include priority key workers. This would direct any additional supply and enable these key workers to join an ‘on-demand’ waiting list. When those most at risk have been vaccinated, all remaining key workers should then be eligible for vaccines.

In practice this would mean that existing supply to vaccinate the top four priority groups by mid-February is kept for that purpose. Where additional supply is available, either through avoiding wastage or access to further amounts of the vaccine, it should be used to begin covering the priority key workers we identify. After the government has vaccinated the top four priority groups we then advocate a separate, parallel stream be established to work through vaccinating key workers, in the priority order set out, alongside the process for vaccinating priority groups 5-9.

This new posture can ensure, by the spring, that not only those most at risk are protected, but we can begin to reopen our economy with confidence.





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