The JCVI vaccine authority has announced the order in which healthy adults under 50 should get the jab – with 40-49s first, then 30-39s, then 18-29s last
Downing Street has defended the decision not to prioritise key workers such as police officers in the next phase of the coronavirus vaccine rollout.
Government scientific advisers have set out the next steps in the vaccine rollout, saying they will prioritise people based on age, but dismiss calls to prioritise key workers.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisations (JCVI) have set out the order in which jabs will be offered in the second phase of the vaccination plan, starting with those aged 40-49.
The first wave of vaccinations, set to be completed by spring, includes those in the top nine priority groups, including all those aged over-50 and people with significant underlying health conditions.
The JCVI have advised that even in the under 50s, age remains the biggest single factor determining mortality and hospitalisations, so it is therefore right that we accept their advice to continue to prioritise by age as this will protect the most people and have the biggest impact on reducing NHS pressures.
They are also clear that giving priority to certain professions would not be as effective or as fast in reducing deaths and hospitalisations as protection of those at higher risk of serious disease.
Prioritisation by age will also protect individuals working in jobs with potentially higher risk of exposure with the most vulnerable in those occupations vaccinated first.
In a briefing on Friday, the JCVI said data from the first phase had been “really encouraging” after it found the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs had already had an impact on the number of people getting severely ill from the virus.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair, Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said ministers had been advised to continue with the “easy and simple” age-based approach, as they dismissed calls for occupations to be considered.
It had been hoped ministers would put teachers at the front of the queue in the second phase – which starts in mid-April once all over-50s and at-risk groups have been offered a first dose.
But the government will now obey advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – which today said jabs should go by age instead.
In a TV press conference, the JCVI announced there should be three priority groups in Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout – people aged 40 to 49, aged 30 to 39 and aged 18 to 29.
That means there will be no special priority given either to teachers, police and other key professions, or to other people at higher risk factors due to being male, overweight, or from an ethnic minority background.
The decision prompted fury from teachers, police and campaign group Asthma UK.
The decision could anger teachers’ unions and Labour, who had demanded priority for teachers as schools return in England from March 8.
Furious police leaders today blasted the decision. John Apter, national chair of the Police Federation, called it a “contemptible betrayal of police officers”. He tweeted: “Their anger is palpable, this will not be forgotten.”
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.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school union, 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.”
Today’s announcement also provoked fury from Asthma UK – which said not all those with the condition are in the first phase of the rollout.
People with severe asthma who were told to shield were in priority group four, while some others – including sufferers who have ever had an emergency admission – are in group six.
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.”
Downing Street said it was “right” to follow the JCVI’s advice which “will protect the most people and have the biggest impact on reducing NHS pressures”.
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.”
David Salisbury, a former Director of Immunisation for the government, told the BBC he backed the age-based approach because it was the quickest way to get first doses into arms.
He told Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’d hate to think vaccine gets wasted because there are not people to match every dose.”
He added: “The logical prioritisation is to use age which is so much more demonstrable than saying ‘my job is this or my job is that.
“So whilst I do have a view that some occupations may justify some prioritisation, logistically the straightforward way to do it is through an age-based approach.”
Some 18.7million UK adults have now received their first dose of the Covid vaccine.
In England, the NHS says it has given first doses to 94.3% of over-80s, 100.3% of 75-79s, 94.4% of 70-74s, 75.3% of 65-69s and 15.9% of under-65s.
One figure is over 100% because the NHS is relying on population estimates which are not completely accurate.
The jab has also gone to 96.4% of frontline NHS staff, 89.4% of the clinically extremely vulnerable and 89.6% of older care home residents.