Homeless people in England to be prioritised for Covid-19 vaccines

11 March 2021, 18:54

The homeless are likely to have health conditions that put them at higher risk.
The homeless are likely to have health conditions that put them at higher risk. Picture: PA

By Harriet Whitehead

Homeless people will be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine, alongside those aged 16-65 with underlying health conditions, it has been announced.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said those who are homeless or sleeping rough should be among those prioritised for a vaccine, because they are likely to have underlying health conditions, which would place them in priority group six.

These are likely to be under-diagnosed or not properly reflected in GP records and therefore the homeless should be offered jabs alongside those in priority group six.

They should also be offered the vaccine without the need for an NHS number or GP registration, it added.

Minister for Covid vaccine deployment Nadhim Zahawi said the past year had been very challenging for those who have been sleeping rough.

He added: "We know those experiencing rough sleeping or homelessness are not always able to access healthcare routinely, and therefore can often have a range of health issues which can leave them at an increased risk of this virus.

"Following the recommendation by the JCVI, local teams will now be able to prioritise this group for vaccination alongside priority group 6 and make sure fewer people fall seriously ill or die from Covid-19."

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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.

"This advice will help us to protect more people who are at greater risk, ensuring that fewer people become seriously ill or die from the virus."

Due to current restrictions, many thousands of people who sleep rough have been housed in emergency accommodation. This provides an opportunity to offer vaccination to those often unable to access basic healthcare.

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Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, the homelessness charity, said: “We welcome the Secretary of State’s acceptance and commitment to this advice from JCVI. As it makes clear, local areas can prioritise people who are homeless for vaccination and must make appropriate considerations in their vaccine rollout plans.

“People without a home experience severe health inequalities, including being almost twice as likely to have heart disease and respiratory conditions which will increase their risk from Covid-19, so it is vital they are able to access the vaccine as quickly as possible.

“The UK Government must now ensure that, working with homelessness services, all local areas have the resources they need to make this happen.

“But make no mistake, the vaccine will not make homelessness safe. 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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READ MORE: Rough sleeper numbers plunge 37% in England during pandemic

Local decisions are likely be taken on whether a shorter schedule may be offered if people are unlikely to return for the second dose at 12 weeks.

Operationally, it is anticipated that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will be easier to deploy to this group of people. The optimal timing for the second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 8 to 12 weeks after the first dose.

This news comes a day after Wales announced it would be prioritising homeless people for the coronavirus vaccine.