Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen
People aged 40-49 will be next in line for a Covid-19 vaccine once all the over-50s and most vulnerable have been immunised, as scientific advisers rejected prioritising frontline workers over age.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) considered whether groups such as teachers and police officers should be vaccinated next, but said prioritising people by age would “provide the greatest benefit in the shortest time”.
The government confirmed it would be following the recommendations.
Phase 2 priority will be given in the following order:
All those aged 40-49
All those aged 30-39
All those aged 18-29
These groups will be vaccinated once all those in phase 1 (the over-50s and most vulnerable) have received a jab.
The committee that advises government on who gets a jab first says its decision is based on who is at greatest risk of needing hospital treatment and those most at risk of dying. Teaching and police unions, who had called for their members to be next, called the move "a betrayal".
Announcing the next stage of the rollout, Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for JCVI, said: “Vaccinations stop people from dying and the current strategy is to prioritise those who are more likely to have severe outcomes and die from Covid-19.
“The evidence is clear that the risk of hospitalisation and death increases with age.
“The vaccination programme is a huge success and continuing the age-based rollout will provide the greatest benefit in the shortest time, including to those in occupations at a higher risk of exposure.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “All four parts of the UK will follow the recommended approach, subject to the final advice given by the independent expert committee.
“The UK Government remains on course to meet its target to offer a vaccine to all those in the phase 1 priority groups by mid-April, and all adults by the end of July.”
Why are people being prioritised by age not occupation?
The JCVI committee said vaccination targeting occupational groups (such as teachers) would be more complex to deliver and may slow down the vaccine programme, leaving some vulnerable people at higher risk for longer.
Vaccinating people by age was the most effective way to prevent death and hospital admission, they concluded.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at Public Health England (PHE), defended the decision to priotise age.
"Delivering a vaccination programme on this scale is incredibly complex and the JCVI's advice will help us continue protecting individuals from the risk of hospitalisation at pace," Ms Ramsay said.
"The age-based approach will ensure more people are protected more quickly. Professor Wei Shen Lim said moving to an occupation-based rollout for the vaccination programme would be difficult as occupational status was not well recorded in primary care records. "If we went down the route of restructuring the programme by occupation we would run the risk of missing some people because not all occupations are well-documented and we don't know all the occupations that are at risk," he told an online news briefing. "So, we might be able to identify some occupations that are at higher risk but there will be other people in other occupations that we may miss them. "If we go down an age-based programme it is simpler and we are less likely to to miss people who are at risk themselves."
Several scientists backed the move, with Jonathan Ball, professor of Molecular Virology at the University of Nottingham, saying “we know that these vaccines are good at protecting from serious disease, and the likelihood of that increases with age.
“Therefore, continuing to target vaccine rollout according to disease risk makes sense, especially if this simplifies the rollout process.”
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said there was merit in the idea of prioritising groups such as teachers but said it was difficult to quickly identify those "most at risk among different groups of employees across sectors".
“For example, do you just prioritise teachers, or also include bus and taxi driver and security staff?
“If not, then why not and which other job roles do you consider? Where is the dividing line in this risk assessment? It’s not an easy exercise and difficult to get right."
But the issue of vaccinating prisoners in one visit, Prof Lim said the JCVI backed local flexibility, while Dr Ramsay said it was important the right “balance” was struck and the programme was seen to be fair and not “disadvantaging another group who might be at high risk”.
What is the reaction from those in frontline jobs?
Metropolitan Police Federation chairman Ken Marsh said the move was "disgusting"."Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel should hang their heads in shame," he said.
The national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales called the decision not to prioritise officers a "deep and damaging betrayal".
John Apter told ITV News: "To be completely disregarded and ignored, despite the warm words of politicians and veiled promises that have been made over recent weeks, to completely ignore them, feels like a very deep and damaging betrayal."
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said school teams “often occupy confined and unventilated spaces for long periods of time with only rudimentary PPE (personal protective equipment).
“The fact that it may have added some complexity to roll out is not a good enough reason not to prioritise the needs of committed professionals.
“A sick teacher is a teacher away from class, which will mean further disruption to pupils’ education and could well mean that they may need to be educated from home again.
“I am amazed by the continuing dedication of school teams. The government has let them down at every turn.”
How much of the population is likely to be vaccinated?
Positive attitudes towards the coronavirus vaccine have increased, with nearly 95% of adults saying they have either received the jab or would be likely to have it if offered, new data shows. Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, published on Friday, show 94% of adults surveyed between February 17 and 21 reported they had now either received the vaccine or would be very or fairly likely to have it if offered. This is up from 91% the previous week and has risen from early December 2020 when around eight in 10 (78%) adults indicated they would be likely to accept the vaccine if offered it. Of the adults who said they would be unlikely to have the vaccine or had decided not to have it, the most common reasons were being worried about long-term impacts on their health (43%), being concerned about the side effects (37%) and waiting to see how well it worked (34%).
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