On Thursday, the government accepted advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to place homeless people and rough sleepers in priority group six.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “It’s so important that nobody gets left behind in this national effort.
“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 six.”
Boris Johnson has previously pledged that everyone from priority groups one to nine will receive their first vaccine dose by mid-April.
Before Thursday's changes, there were 7.3 million people in priority group six.
Phase one priority groups (to be offered first dose by mid-April)
1 - Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers (800,000 people)
2 - Those aged 80 and over and frontline health and social care workers (a total of 7.1 million people in this group: 3.3m over 80s, 2.4m healthcare workers, 1.4m social care workers)
3 - Those aged 75 and over (2.3 million)
4 - Those aged 70 and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (4.4 million)
5 - Those aged 65 and over (2.9 million)
6 - All individuals aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality (7.3 million)
7 - Those aged 60 and over (1.8 million)
8 - Those aged 55 years and over (2.4 million)9 - Those aged 50 years of age and over (2.8 million)
The JCVI said those experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping have a higher risk of poorer outcomes of Covid-19 compared to the general population.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, JCVI Covid-19 chairman, said: “The JCVI’s advice on Covid-19 vaccine prioritisation was developed with the aim of preventing as many deaths as possible.
“People experiencing homelessness are likely to have health conditions that put them at higher risk of death from Covid-19."
The JCVI said the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine “will be easier to deploy to this group of people” and local decisions could be made on shortening the interval between doses if it was unlikely a person would return for a second dose.
In its letter to the Health Secretary, the JCVI said: "Due to current restrictions, many thousands of people who experience rough sleeping have been accommodated in emergency accommodation.
"This provides a unique opportunity to in-reach vaccination to a population that is otherwise often unable to access basic healthcare."Rosanna O’Connor, acting director for health improvement at Public Health England, said: “We welcome this decision of JCVI and are pleased to have supported the committee with the evidence that helped make this decision, which will protect those who are most vulnerable and may be at increased risk of severe illness or death from Covid-19.”
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, also welcomed the move, but added, "make no mistake, the vaccine will not make homelessness safe".
He said: “Whether it is living on the streets, or in cars and sheds, or constantly moving between friends’ sofas, homelessness is extremely damaging to both your physical and mental health.
“We desperately need a plan to ensure everyone has a safe and secure home.”
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