As expected, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation today advised ministers that an “age-based approach” remained the best way to reduce the risk of death or serious illness from Covid in people when the roll-out reaches the under 50s.
After all over-50s have been offered a first jab – expected by mid-April – the next priority groups will be: all those aged 40-49 years, followed by all aged 30-39 years, followed by those aged 18-29 years.
But the JCVI said the uptake of the jab should be promoted in BAME and deprived communities, and in those regarded as clinically obese, because of the higher risk of ending up in hospital.
Mayor Sadiq Khan had called for transport workers, police and teachers to be prioritised after a number of deaths of frontline Londoners, including at least 78 transport staff, of which 47 were bus drivers. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had called for jabs to be prioritised for school staff.
Ministers have indicated they will implement the JCVI’s advice on the next stages of vaccine prioritisation in full. The entire UK adult population is expected to receive a jab by the end of July.
More than 18.6m Britons have had a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs but there remain concerns at levels of poor take-up, particularly among black Londoners. About two million doses have been given in the capital.
The JCVI said the key factor in phase two of the vaccination programme – after the first nine priority groups have been offered a jab – was the speed of the roll-out.
Age remains the biggest risk factor to ending up in hospital with covid, with the youngest people at the lowest risk. Men were also at greater risk than women, it said.
The JCVI said that targeting people on the basis of their job “would be more complex to deliver and may slow down the vaccine programme”, which could leave some more vulnerable people at higher risk unvaccinated for longer.
It said that “operationally, simple and easy-to-deliver programmes are critical for rapid deployment and high vaccine uptake”.
But it “strongly advised” people from black and ethnic minority communities, those with a BMI (body mass index) above 30 – classing them technically obese – and people from deprived communities to accept a jab as soon as it was offered.
It also encouraged health teams to target areas of poor take-up. London’s five health networks will each receive an extra £100,000 to tackle vaccine hesitancy and complacency – particular among the younger population – on a ward or postcode basis.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for JCVI, said: “The evidence is clear that the risk of hospitalisation and death increases with age. The vaccination programme is a huge success and continuing the age-based rollout will provide the greatest benefit in the shortest time, including to those in occupations at a higher risk of exposure.”
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at Public Health England, said: “Delivering a vaccination programme on this scale is incredibly complex and the JCVI’s advice will help us continue protecting individuals from the risk of hospitalisation at pace.
“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.”
London has delivered two million jabs but the latest data shows a wide disparity between boroughs, with Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Newham and Westminster having vaccinated a far smaller proportion of adults than Harrow, Hillingdon and Havering.
This is partly explained by Tower Hamlets, where 13.4 per cent of the population (34,656 people) had a first dose by Sunday, having fewer older people in the first priority groups. Harrow has given a first dose to 73,109 people, 37 per cent of its adults.