Teachers and other key workers are not set to be prioritised in the final stage of the UK’s Covid vaccine rollout.
The vaccine authority today advised jabs to 21million healthy UK adults under 50 should go by age, not job title.
It had been hoped ministers would put teachers at the front of the queue in the second phase – which starts in mid-April once all over-50s and at-risk groups have been offered a first dose.
But it’s now understood the government will obey advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – which today said jabs should go by age instead.
In a TV press conference, the JCVI announced there should be three priority groups in Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout – people aged 40 to 49, aged 30 to 39 and aged 18 to 29.
That means there will be no special priority given either to teachers, police and other key professions, or to other people at higher risk factors due to being male, overweight, or from an ethnic minority background.
Scroll down for the priority list in full.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, COVID-19 Chair for JCVI, told today’s press conference his committee had considered a job-based priority list, but age “remains a dominant factor” in risk – even in the under-50s.
He added switching to an occupation-based programme would be “untested and untried” and risked slowing down the rollout while “the queue is moving swiftly”.
The expert said: “Speed is important. Getting vaccines into arms as quickly as possible is the fastest and best way to maximise benefit to the population.”
He said people’s jobs are “not very well recorded” in primary care records, so trying to target teachers would make things “even more difficult” for vaccine teams and “run the risk of missing some people”.
“The benefit may not be worth the effort,” he said. “On balance we felt it was simpler to keep everything as straightforward as possible.”
Meanwhile the JCVI accepted other people are at higher risk – including men, those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, those with a BMI over 30, and those living in deprived neighbourhoods.
But they will not be given special priority either.
Instead they will be strongly urged to take up their jab offer promptly when it comes.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock will lead a Downing Street press conference today at 5pm where he is expected to accept and adopt the JCVI’s interim advice.
The decision could anger teachers’ unions and Labour, who had demanded priority for teachers as schools return in England from March 8.
But David Salisbury, a former Director of Immunisation for the government, told the BBC he backed the age-based approach because it was the quickest way to get first doses into arms.
He told Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’d hate to think vaccine gets wasted because there are not people to match every dose.”
He added: “The logical prioritisation is to use age which is so much more demonstrable than saying ‘my job is this or my job is that.
“So whilst I do have a view that some occupations may justify some prioritisation, logistically the straightforward way to do it is through an age-based approach.”
Some 18.7million UK adults have now received their first dose of the Covid vaccine.
In England, the NHS says it has given first doses to 94.3% of over-80s, 100.3% of 75-79s, 94.4% of 70-74s, 75.3% of 65-69s and 15.9% of under-65s.
One figure is over 100% because the NHS is relying on population estimates which are not completely accurate.
The jab has also gone to 96.4% of frontline NHS staff, 89.4% of the clinically extremely vulnerable and 89.6% of older care home residents.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisations at Public Health England (PHE), said there was emerging evidence about the success of both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccine in reducing cases and deaths.
She said: “We now are beginning to see signs that the rate of deaths and the rate of hospitalisations in those vaccinated age groups are declining at a faster rate than in the younger population.”
She added: “The age-based approach will ensure more people are protected more quickly. It is crucial that those at higher risk – including men and BAME communities – are encouraged to take the vaccine, and that local health systems are fully engaged and reaching out to underserved communities to ensure they can access the vaccine.”
The second phase will see the remaining 21million adults who have not yet had the jab by mid-April offered first doses up until July 31.
Their rollout for heathy under-50s is expected to be slower than the first phase because millions of people per week will need to go back for their second dose at the same time.
It comes after Boris Johnson unveiled his roadmap to ending all legal lockdown restrictions in England by June 21 at the earliest.
The four-stage plan will allow schools and some limited outdoor contact from March 8, followed by groups of six people or two households being able to gather outdoors from March 29.
Non-essential shops, hairdressers and pub beer gardens will open from April 12 from the earliest, followed by indoor parts of venues from May 17.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to extend Covid support including the furlough scheme to the end of June in his Budget next week.
Vaccine priority list in full
Phase 1 Part 1 – everyone offered by February 15
- Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
- All those 80 years of age and over
- Frontline health and social care workers
- All those 75 years of age and over
- All those 70 years of age and over
- Clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (shielders)
Phase 1 Part 2 – everyone offered by April 15
- All those aged 65-69
- All those aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions – these include unpaid carers as well as people with diabetes, learning disabilities, morbid obesity, severe mental illness and other conditions.
- All those aged 60-64
- All those aged 55-59
- All those aged 50-55
Phase 2 – everyone offered by July 31
- All those aged 40-49
- All those aged 30-39
- All those aged 18-29