Homeless people are to be prioritised in the vaccination effort, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced, based on the fact they are more likely to suffer from adverse health conditions and have more limited access to medical care.
“It’s so important that nobody gets left behind in this national effort,” Mr Hancock said in a statement.
Under the new proposition, homeless people and rough sleepers will be included in stage six of the vaccine rollout plan, which consists of: “adults aged 16 to 65 years in an at-risk group.” Before the changes were announced, stage six consisted of 7.3 million people.
There are a total of 10 stages to the plan, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying everyone in stages one through nine will receive the first dose of a vaccine by mid-April.
Mr Hancock’s decision comes after a letter from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said rough sleepers are likely to be particularly at risk of contracting the virus.
“Due to current restrictions, many thousands of people who experience rough sleeping have been accommodated in emergency accommodation,” the JCVI said. “This provides a unique opportunity to in-reach vaccination to a population that is otherwise often unable to access basic healthcare.”
The government and the JCVI have both received criticism from trade unions for not offering priority vaccinations for frontline workers, such as police officers and teaching staff. In the week before schools were scheduled to return on 8th March, 7% of local authorities in England recorded a rise in coronavirus cases, although 92% recorded rates that were falling or unchanged.
Though Mr Hancock remains firm that NHS England should stick to the JCVI guidelines, he has said that he does not mind prison staff being given spare vaccines that are left over from dosing at-risk inmates.