politics

Teachers and police blast vaccine priority list as key groups aren't bumped up


Police and teachers’ leaders blasted the government today after it emerged they will not be given priority for the Covid vaccine.

Boris Johnson was accused of a “deep and damaging betrayal” by following scientific advice that it will be quicker to prioritise the jab for healthy under-50s by age alone.

Downing Street today confirmed the Prime Minister will follow advice from the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

The experts said Phase 2 of the rollout from mid-April should be in three age-based steps – 40-49s, 30-39s and finally 18-29s – to make it as quick and simple as possible.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, COVID-19 Chair for JCVI, said age “remains a dominant factor” in risk even in the under-50s and looking for all teachers or police officers would slow down the vaccine rollout.

But the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales claimed it was a “deep and damaging betrayal” which “will not be forgotten”.

John Apter told the PA news agency: “There’s real palpable anger from all levels within policing about how we have been completely disregarded and ignored in this phase.

“What is expected of policing does put them at risk, it does put them at risk of transmitting this virus.

“They’re being spat at, coughed at, rolling around on the ground with people, working in hospital environments, going into people’s homes, they can’t mitigate the risk of the virus.

“All of that means absolutely nothing. This is a very deep and damaging betrayal and it will not be forgotten.”

Anyone with major health problems should get the vaccine in the first phase, either because they were shielding (before February 15) or otherwise “at risk” (between February 15 and April 15).

Downing Street said it was “right” to follow the JCVI’s independent advice which “will protect the most people and have the biggest impact on reducing NHS pressures”.



Downing Street said it was “right” to follow the JCVI’s independent advice
Downing Street said it was “right” to follow the JCVI’s independent advice

Asked if Boris Johnson was hiding behind the advice to avoid making a political decision, a No10 spokesman said: “No, I would not accept that.

“The JCVI have been clear in relation to the vaccination deployment and how that should look.

“It’s right we accept their advice to continue to prioritise from age. This will protect the most people and have the biggest impact on reducing NHS pressures.”

But comes despite newly-release SAGE papers today warning people in jobs that can be done from home are less likely to die from Covid-19.

SAGE’s Environmental Modelling Group agreed age was the “highest risk factor” for deaths from coronavirus. But in a paper on February 11 the group added: “A person’s occupation may have an important impact on the likelihood that they will be exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and become infected.”

The group noted it was not usually workers’ choice whether or not to work from home – and those with higher qualifications were more likely to be able to do so.

“Occupations that are less likely to be able to work from home have higher COVID-19 mortality rates than those that can work from home,” the group added.

So what are some of the key groups that are not singled out for priority in the rollout? We have a look at those that may prove the most controversial.

Key groups that will miss out on priority

Teachers

Teachers and childcare workers without health problems will need to wait until the vaccine rollout gets to their age band, like anyone else.

This is despite the opening of schools from March 8 in England, which had prompted calls from Labour and the Mirror for teachers to get priority.

Labour sources today stopped short of questioning the JCVI but said the government had “missed the opportunity” to vaccinate teachers over the February half-term.

Unions however reacted with fury. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said: “The fact that it may have added some complexity to roll out is not a good enough reason. A sick teacher is a teacher away from class which will mean further disruption to pupil’s education and could well mean that they may need to be educated from home again.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was “disappointed”. The union leader added: “The Government needs to make a policy decision on this matter having insisted that education is a national priority and having announced a ‘big bang’ return to the classroom in England.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said it was “incomprehensible” adding: “Nursery and pre-school workers cannot choose to work from home, while childminders welcome children from multiple families into their own homes. The children in their care need cuddles, help with mealtimes, nappy changes and so much more that cannot be offered from a distance.”

Previous data has suggested teachers are at no greater risk of dying from Covid than other professions.

Police



Police are not given special priority
Police are not given special priority

Leaders for rank-and-file police, who have continued working throughout the pandemic, reacted with anger.

Unlike their counterparts in the NHS, frontline emergency workers like police and firefighters have not been put ahead in the queue.

Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said “I’m absolutely shocked” telling BBC News Channel: “My colleagues are genuinely scared not getting the vaccination.

“This government are creating a superspreader scenario. It’s absurd. I do not understand what is going on.”

He said police had lost 29 officers including seven in Scotland Yard, adding: “This is not about pitting us against others.

“This is about being very clear and understanding we do a job that no one else does in this country. We cannot afford a two metre parameter from people. We have to be in people’s faces at times.”

Some asthmatics



Not all asthmatics are on the priority list
Not all asthmatics are on the priority list

Today’s announcement provoked a backlash from Asthma UK – which said not all those with the condition are in the first phase of the rollout.

The organisation said people with severe asthma who were told to shield were in priority group four (before February 15), while some others – including sufferers who have ever had an emergency admission – are in group six (between February 15 and April 15).

But other asthma sufferers must now wait until their age band in the normal course of the rollout.

Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “There are thousands of people with asthma who will rightly feel anxious, angry and ignored by government.

“The government must reconsider this decision which is unacceptable and could put people with asthma at risk.”

Men

The JCVI conceded that men are at higher risk from hospitalisation than women due to Covid-19.

However, they will not be put ahead of women in the queue – again because of concerns about slowing down the rollout.

Instead, the JCVI “strongly advises” that men, BAME people, overweight people and those in deprived neighbourhoods (see below) “promptly take up the offer of vaccination when they are offered”.

People from ethnic minority backgrounds

The JCVI said “those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities” are at higher risk of being hospitalised.

Again, however, they will not be put ahead in the vaccine rollout, unless they have an underlying condition anyway.

Analysis by the ONS on the first wave last year suggested the risk of death for black men was more than three times higher than for white men. Officials have since said it is difficult to know whether people are at higher risk of their ethnicity alone, or because they are more likely to work public-facing, riskier jobs.

Overweight people

Morbidly obese people with a BMI over 40 are able to get the vaccine in the first phase of the rollout, in group six.

However, those with a BMI between 30 and 40 are not given priority, despite the JCVI accepting they are at higher risk.

Because they have not been given special priority in the second phase of the rollout, they will need to wait until the jab reaches their age group.

People in deprived areas

The JCVI said people in deprived neighbourhoods are also at higher risk of hospitalisation.

ONS data from the first wave suggested people who live in the most deprived areas of England and Wales were around twice as likely to die after contracting Covid-19.

However, no priority is being made for this in the rollout. It would likely be impractical given people go to a vaccine centre in their local area.





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