Homeless and rough sleepers in England prioritised for vaccine

Matt Hancock acts on official advice concerning segment of society more likely to be in poor health

The government has taken up official advice that homeless people and those sleeping rough should be prioritised for coronavirus vaccines, given they are more likely to have undiagnosed conditions and have less regular access to healthcare.

In a letter to the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, (JCVI), which has set out the timetable for the vaccination programme, Matt Hancock agreed that homeless people should be put in group six, designated as people with underlying health conditions that place them at greater risk of Covid.

The health secretary also agreed to a JCVI suggestion that prison officers could be vaccinated early if there were any doses left over in jails or other detention settings that were intended for use by prisoners eligible under health or age criteria.

The UK recorded 6,753 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest daily figure for almost two weeks, although there has also been a significant rise in testing, as schools have fully returned in England.

Other data showed that in the week to 7 March, 7% of local authorities in England recorded a rise in case rates, with 92% seeing a fall and one area unchanged.

The JCVI and the government had opted not to offer early vaccinations to prison officers, or to other frontline staff such as police and teachers, and to base the rollout purely on age and health conditions, prompting objections from trade unions.

In a letter to Hancock this month, the JCVI noted that people who were homeless or sleeping rough had high rates of undiagnosed comorbidities, and that half of them in effect had no access to healthcare.

Many thousands of usual rough sleepers are currently in accommodation, giving “a unique opportunity to in-reach vaccination to a population that is otherwise often unable to access basic healthcare”, the letter said.

In his reply on Thursday, Hancock said he was happy for NHS England teams to treat homeless or rough-sleeping people alongside group 6, as part of a “pragmatic approach to the dosing schedule”.

Prof Wei Shen Lim, the chair of the JCVI’s Covid-19 programme, said: “This advice will help us to protect more people who are at greater risk, ensuring that fewer people become seriously ill or die from the virus.”

Hancock said on Thursday: “We know there are heightened risks for those who sleep rough and today I have accepted the advice of the independent experts at the JCVI to prioritise those experiencing rough sleeping or homelessness for vaccination alongside priority group 6.”

On prison officers, Hancock said in his letter that the vaccination programme was now reaching significant numbers of people in detention, but that NHS England should “bear the JCVI advice in mind for the future, considering its practicality, should current circumstances change”.

But in principle, Hancock said, he was happy for prison staff to be given any unused doses, and “this should be done wherever possible”.

Contributor

Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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