Teachers and police should be considered for next phase of vaccine rollout

The government intends to vaccinate roughly 15 million at-risk people by mid-February before turning its attention to the remaining groups on the priority list outlined by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Teachers, members of the police and people with learning disabilities should be considered as a priority for vaccination after 15 February, the head of NHS England has told MPs.

Health authorities are making rapid progress in working through the UK’s most vulnerable groups, having administered a first dose to 6.5 million people, including nearly 80 per cent of all over-80s.

But with discussions currently under way to decide recommendations for the second phase of the vaccine rollout, Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS, has said that key public service workers and people with learning disabilities should be considered sooner rather than later.

Sir Simon told the Health and Social Care Committee that there needs to be “a legitimate discussion” between the government and the JCVI over whether these groups should be prioritised over people in their 60s and 50s.

“People with learning disabilities and autism, certain key public service workers, teachers, the police, they will have to be factored in that post-February 15 prioritisation decision,” he said on Tuesday.

Sir Simon said reducing the number of hospital beds occupied by Covid-19 patients was not “the only consideration” policymakers would take into account when deciding the vaccination priority list.

“Fundamentally, the most important thing is to get the overall infection rate down, this is not principally about pressure on the NHS, this is principally about reducing the avoidable death rate,” he added.

Vaccinating everyone aged 65 and over will have a “big impact” on the pressure on hospital beds, Sir Simon said, but added that about a quarter of hospital admissions for Covid are for people aged under 55, and about half of inpatient critical care bed days for coronavirus relate to patients under the age of 65.

The nine groups that make up the JCVI’s current priority list are estimated to represent around 99 per cent of preventable deaths from Covid-19. Once these individuals are vaccinated and protected – a process that is likely to last until April – scientists are hopeful that the UK’s fatality rate will drop significantly.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told The Independent that he agreed with Sir Simon’s suggestion to move education staff and other key groups up the prioritisation list.

“The reason for this is that even if education staff are prioritised for vaccinations in the next phase of the rollout, after the first nine priority groups, they won’t start receiving them until April,” he said.

“In the meantime, we need to get schools fully open again as soon as possible, and an earlier vaccination programme for education staff would be helpful in supporting this to happen safely during the second half of this term.

“In particular, we would urge prioritisation for staff who work in specialist settings as their role is often akin to care work. We understand that there are a number of factors to consider in the priority order, but we would at the very least like there to be a decision and a clear timetable for the vaccination of education staff as soon as possible.”

The government is facing mounting pressure to ensure teachers are vaccinated as soon as possible amid widespread disruption to the education sector.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said that teachers have a “good shout” to be “very high” on the updated priority list.

Only vulnerable pupils and children of key workers are currently able to attend school, and the prospect of classrooms reopening again next month appears remote.

“There is a perfectly reasonable debate to be had about who should go in what order next, where teachers have got a good shout to be very high on that list,” Mr Hancock said on Sunday.

Earlier on Tuesday, schools minister Nick Gibb told the House of Commons that “the Department for Education will be pressing the case for the education workforce” in the second phase of the vaccine rollout.

He added that the reopening of schools will be prioritised once the government moves to start lifting lockdown restrictions.

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