Senior public health advisers and unions have warned frontline workers could die needlessly from Covid-19 because they were not prioritized in the government’s vaccine distribution plan.
The Ministry of Health’s tentative plan for the distribution of a new vaccine, which could be approved by the end of the year and rolled out in 2021, prioritizes the elderly as well as healthcare workers and care, but does not include essential workers in the most dangerous roles. There was also anger that the government did not yet commit to vaccinating thousands of people who work in hospitals, such as cleaners, porters, security guards and patient transport drivers.
Steve Green, a London hospital security guard who still grapples with the physical legacy of contracting out Covid, said outsourced staff should not be left out of an early vaccine rollout. “Doctors and nurses are my friends – of course they should be vaccinated first – but I thought after the last time people stopped seeing us in second class,” Green said, this is not his real name. “Just because there’s a different company on our payslips – we’re still NHS in our hearts – why don’t they think I need protection?”
Lola McEvoy, organizer of GMB senior workers, said outsourced hospital workers need to know if they are leading the queue for the vaccine, like directly employed NHS workers. “It is simply not true that they are once again facing the same risk to their lives as their colleagues in the NHS, without the same protection. We all want the vaccine to be successful, but for this rollout to work, our members need to be vaccinated as a priority, ”she said.
Professor Gabriel Scally, president of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine, urged the government to think again because lives were at stake. “We will have unnecessary deaths if we do not change cap, ”he said. “This vaccine is protective and we must use it to protect those most at risk. While the risk is mostly age related, you can’t ignore what we should have learned from the first wave: some professions are at considerable risk. “
He said officials should review the approach taken in New York City, which prioritizes staff facing the public, such as transit workers and grocers, for any vaccine.
According to an analysis of Covid deaths conducted by the Bureau of National Statistics, frontline workers in low-paying manual jobs were four times more likely to die in the first wave of the virus than men in the liberal professions.
Security guards are particularly at risk, with the highest death rate of any profession. Cyril Hawken, a 59-year-old guard at a university residence in south London, fears being exposed to the virus while waiting for a vaccine to be made available to his age group. “Since the university reopened, we have had several positive cases,” he said. “You have to be extremely careful when doing your daily patrols.”
Hawken added that it was unfair that high-risk workers like him had to wait for a vaccine. “They call us key workers, but when it comes to getting vaccinated, they put us at the bottom of the ladder.”
Bus drivers are also at higher risk, with at least 30 dead from Covid in London since March. Joe Welch, a north London bus driver, said he personally knew five of the drivers who died from the coronavirus. “It’s pretty dark – you have to explain to families and deal with the effects on their colleagues,” he said.
Welch, 64, who went through both lockdowns, said drivers worried about a second wave and deserved to be protected with a vaccine. “Our guys went there even though they were scared – it’s just a fair reward for them to be higher up the ladder,” he said.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, which drew up the plan for the government, said it had yet to decide whether to include outsourced hospital workers in the priority group for a vaccine. Professor Wei Shen Lim, chairman of the Covid Vaccination Committee, said the elderly and health and social service workers would be given priority. “This recommendation was made with the aim of preventing as many deaths as possible. The risk of death from Covid-19 increases exponentially with age. Frontline health and social workers are essential to the work of the NHS to save lives and are also at increased risk of exposure and transmission of the virus to vulnerable patients. “