Wales’ homeless to be prioritised in next wave for Covid-19 vaccination

People who are currently or have recently experienced homelessness will be prioritised for the coronavirus vaccine, Health Minister Vaughan Gething has confirmed.

They will be moved into priority group 6 because they are more likely to have an underlying health condition which puts them at increased risk of Covid.

Those included are people sleeping rough, people in emergency accommodation and people recently homeless in supported accommodation.

As many homeless people are not registered with a GP, local authorities and homelessness support teams will help to identify individuals and support them to take up a vaccine offer.

Mr Gething said "a fundamental principle of our vaccination programme is that no one will be left behind" and this includes homeless people.

There are an estimated 400 people sleeping rough in Wales.

More than 1 million people, or around 40% of the adult population, in Wales have already received a first Covid jab. Credit: PA Images

Those who are, or have recently been, homeless are more likely to have an underlying health condition which puts them at higher risk of both transmission and harm from coronavirus.

According to ONS data, people with experience of homelessness have a lower than average life expectancy, with mortality at around 31 to 38 years sooner than the general population.

As a result, new guidance has been issued stating that homeless people should be included in priority group 6, alongside others who are at increased risk of the serious effects of Covid.

People are currently identified and contacted via their GP or health records when they are offered a vaccine. This will not be possible for many homeless people as they may not be registered with local health services.

Local authorities, third sector and housing organisations, as well as homelessness support teams, will instead be involved in helping homeless people get their vaccine offer.

Should they accept that offer, the vaccine will be taken to where they are, rather than expecting them to visit a centre.

The Health Minister described is at "shocking" and "saddening" that those who are homeless are more likely to have either a physical or mental condition which puts them at an increased risk to the harms of coronavirus.

He said: "A fundamental principle of our vaccination programme is that no one will be left behind and as part of this commitment, we are already working to ensure it is as easy as possible for every eligible adult in Wales to have a coronavirus vaccine if they want one.

"Today’s guidance provides further information on how we are going to do this across organisations and government to ensure homeless people are supported to get protected and have their vaccine too.”

The Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James, said that the "announcement means we will be able to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society".

During the pandemic, more than 100 rough sleepers in Cardiff were housed at a hostel near the city centre.

Katie Dalton, the Director of homelessness and housing support body Cymorth Cymru, said her organisation is "delighted" at the news.

She said: "As well as the higher prevalence of underlying health conditions, we know that people experiencing homelessness are less likely to be registered with health services and could have missed out on the vaccine.

"The inclusive approach set out today means that public services and support providers are empowered to ensure that people sleeping rough and in emergency or supported accommodation are not forgotten and get the protection they need from COVID-19.”

Last year the Welsh Government announced £50 million to keep people off the streets. Many homeless people were also moved into temporary accommodation during the pandemic.