Business Secretary says NHS staff would want vulnerable people at front of vaccine queue

4 December 2020, 10:59

By Maddie Goodfellow

Business Secretary Alok Sharma told Nick Ferrari that NHS staff will not be in the first wave of people to receive the Covid vaccine, saying he "knows they will want the most vulnerable to get it first".

Nick Ferrari challenged the Business Secretary over the vaccine priority list following reports that NHS staff have been "relegated" from receiving the jab in the first wave.

He asked Mr Sharma: "How many doses are in the first wave and why does it appear that NHS staff have been moved down from being in the first wave to the second?"

Mr Sharma said: "We will be starting the vaccination programme next week and at that point we will have 800,000 doses available. Hopefully we will get more doses depending on the manufacturing by the end of the year."

"But we've always said that the bulk of the vaccination programme will take place next year and of course astraZeneca is also being reviewed, though we don't know the timing of when anything will be pronounced on it but again that's a vaccine where we have secure 100 million doses."

"In terms of the priority order, that is being set by the joint committee on vaccinations and immunisations. We are absolutely going to stick to the prioritisation that's been set out."

Praising the work of the NHS, Mr Sharma went on to say that he felt NHS staff themselves would want the vulnerable to get the vaccine first.

His comments come after the Health Service Journal revealed that NHS staff are unlikely to get the jab before Christmas after being moved down the priority list.

People aged over 80 who are at hospitals for other reasons will now be the top priority for the first batches to arrive of the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine, which are due to arrive in coming days.

They will be followed in the priority order by care home staff.

NHS staff will be the next priority to receive the vaccine, but limited stocks are expected to mean most of them will now not receive it until after Christmas.

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Speaking about the priority order, Mr Sharma said: "In terms of who gets this and the priority order that is being set by the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) which is independent from government and filled with all the right people.

"They have a prioritisation, they have nine categories in this first phase and once everyone has had that going down the category list the expectation is that a 30 million people will have been vaccinated.

"We are absolutely going to stick rigidly to the prioritisation that has been set out, but at the top of the list are people who are care workers and those who are based in care homes.

NHS plans had assumed staff would receive this vaccine, as it is because it is only being sent to 50 “hub hospital” sites, due to the logistical challenges of correctly storing, handling and transferring it, most of which must be done at very low temperatures. 

The 50 “hospital hubs” were therefore told the first to get it would mostly be NHS hospital staff.

However, yesterday the NHS was effectively overruled on this, when the JCVI and government said over 80s and care home staff must be prioritised.

Nick pushed the minister further on this, asking: "But initially NHS staff thought they were in the first wave. Why have they been relegated?"

"This is something that has been published now. NHS staff and care home staff have done a fabulous job and really put themselves at risk in certain circumstances, and of course we should applaud that," Mr Sharma replied.

"But I know that what they will also want is that those who are most vulnerable get the vaccine first. That is what the prioritisation list has been built upon."

Some NHS staff will still be vaccinated from next week, for example where trusts have spare vaccine and can’t achieve giving it to more care staff or over-80s, because of logistics or potentially lack of demand, but the numbers are now expected to be strictly limited.

Care home residents will still not be among the first to get it, despite being top of the JCVI’s list, because the logistics of getting it to them have not been overcome, under the NHS’ current plans.

The government and NHS have said that they will begin vaccinating care residents as soon as they think it is possible.