Plan to continue rollout of Covid vaccine by age rather than prioritising key workers ‘makes sense’


Plans to continue the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine by age rather than prioritising frontline workers ‘makes sense’, a former Government scientific adviser said today.

Professor Sir Mark Walport, former chief scientific adviser to the Government, insisted the strategy maximised the number of vaccines on a basis of the most vulnerable. 

It comes as fury erupted on Friday after the Government confirmed police officers and teachers would not be bumped up the priority list once the NHS has made its way through 32million people in the top nine groups.  

‘The rollout is going in such an efficient way by doing it through the ages,’ Sir Mark told BBC Breakfast. ‘Of course, there will be many teachers, many police, who are in the 40-50 age group and indeed who will have been immunised already. So, it does make sense.

‘It’s still the case that most of the vulnerability, including in those professions which mix with a lot of people, is still with the older members of those cohorts, and so this is a strategy that maximises the number of vaccines and does it on a basis of the most vulnerable.’

He added: ‘An age-related rollout fits with where people get the worst disease and are at higher risk of dying.’ 

Plans to continue the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine by age rather than prioritising frontline workers ‘makes sense’, a former Government scientific adviser said today. Pictured: A vaccine is administered in Nottingham

More than 18.7million people in the UK have already had at least one dose of a Covid vaccine and Boris Johnson said he aims to have reached everyone in the top nine priority groups by April 15. 

If this is achieved it will mean half of the population of Britain – and a group accounting for almost all Covid deaths – have been immunised. 

Ministers yesterday announced they will continue with the age-based approach to vaccine rollout recommended by leading scientists, paving the way for everyone in their forties to be jabbed in April before the roll-out eventually reaches every remaining adult.

But police and teaching unions were outraged at being ignored in the next phase of the inoculation drive. 

Metropolitan Police Federation chief Ken Marsh slammed the ‘absurd’ plan, calling it ‘absolutely disgusting’ and arguing that health officials ‘don’t give a damn about us’.  

Pictured: Sir Mark Walport

Pictured: Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

Professor Sir Mark Walport (left), former chief scientific adviser to the Government, insisted the strategy maximised the number of vaccines on a basis of the most vulnerable. Pictured right: Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

More than 18.7million people in the UK have already had at least one dose of a Covid vaccine and Boris Johnson said he aims to have reached everyone in the top nine priority groups by April 15. Pictured: Nottingham

More than 18.7million people in the UK have already had at least one dose of a Covid vaccine and Boris Johnson said he aims to have reached everyone in the top nine priority groups by April 15. Pictured: Nottingham

The Police Federation of England and Wales’ national chair John Apter added that the decision was ‘very disappointing’.

He told Times Radio: ‘The rug feels it’s been pulled from under us. It feels very disappointing. My colleagues feel let down.

‘I do feel the Home Secretary has let us down. I understand the reasons and I’ve had many conversations with the Home Secretary. I’ve always said we have a constructive relationship. That doesn’t mean we’re always going to agree.’   

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, also attacked the announcement, telling the BBC that prioritising teachers would ‘reassure’ them and ‘minimise disruption to education caused by staff absence as a result of Covid’. 

He said that further loosening of lockdown measures were not going to go ahead unless the first phase of reopening of schools was successful.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended plans for the next stage of the UK vaccination programme by arguing on Friday it was the 'fastest and simplest way to roll out the jabs'

Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended plans for the next stage of the UK vaccination programme by arguing on Friday it was the ‘fastest and simplest way to roll out the jabs’

Mr Barton added: ‘What we don’t want to do is get into some kind of arms race as to whether my job is more likely to lead to me dying than you – that’s really not what I’m saying.

‘I would just go back to my point – it is a national moment on which much depends.

‘You were talking earlier on about festivals, etc, happening in the summer – nothing is going to happen, including retail, unless we get this first phase correct.’   

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance (EYA), accused the Government of being ‘lazy’ in its decision not to prioritise key workers. 

NIGHT JABS WILL BE OFFERED DURING RAMADAN TO AVOID UPTAKE DROP IN FAST 

Plans for a night-time vaccine drive during Ramadan are being drawn up by No10 amid fears uptake among Muslims could plummet during the religious period.

Officials are concerned that vaccine hesitancy within ethnic minority groups could be even greater during the month-long fast, which lasts from April 12 to May 12.

During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from consuming food and drink from sunrise to sunset every day and some consider taking medication within those hours to be breaking the fast.

However, the British Islamic Medical Association and the majority of Islamic scholars have said getting the Covid vaccine while fasting would be permissible.

The Telegraph reports that Government sources hope to keep some immunisation centres open at night in case there are still some who don’t feel comfortable getting a daytime jab. 

There will be added impetus to make sure uptake remains high among Muslims after a major report published today found Pakistani and Bangladeshi people have the highest Covid mortality rates of any ethnic groups in the UK.

Latest estimates show approximately 75 per cent of South Asians over 70 have been vaccinated compared to 90 per cent of elderly white people. Rates are thought to be as low as 60 per cent among black Britons. 

It’s thought that a lack of trust in Government, misinformation on social media and communication barriers are behind poorer uptake in the UK’s minority groups. 

On April 12, when Ramadan starts, shops, gyms, beer gardens and self-catering holiday homes will reopen and on May 17 pubs and restaurants will get the green light. The PM has set the target of offering a jab to everyone aged over 50 by April 15. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended plans for the next stage of the UK vaccination programme by arguing on Friday it was the ‘fastest and simplest way to roll out the jabs’.

He said the view of the Government and its advisers was that ‘the right thing to do, the moral thing to do, is to make sure that we save the most lives’.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that vaccination in order of age remains the quickest way to cut deaths, with age still a dominant risk factor for serious illness and death from Covid-19.

This means that phase two of the vaccine rollout, which is expected to begin in April, will start with people aged 40 to 49 before moving on to younger age groups.

Mr Hancock told a Downing Street briefing the JCVI had looked at clinical evidence on who is at highest risk of death and also how quickly jabs could get into people’s arms.

Asked specifically why teachers are not being prioritised, he said data showed that ‘thankfully teachers are no more likely to catch Covid than any other member of the population who goes to work’.

‘Trying to come up with a scheme which prioritises one professional group over another would have been complicated to put in place and wouldn’t have done what we asked the JCVI to do, which I think is the right thing, which is to make sure we minimise the amount of people who die by using the vaccine,’ he added.

England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said other occupations were higher risk than teaching, including people working in catering as well as ‘metal-working and machine operatives, food, drink and tobacco process operatives, chefs, taxi and cab drivers’.

He said there ‘were quite a few areas of the UK that are burning quite hot’, including in the Midlands and spreading up to the west coast of England.

Prof Van-Tam urged those who have been vaccinated to stick to the rules, urging the public: ‘Do not wreck this now.

‘It is too early to relax,’ he added. ‘Just continue to maintain discipline and hang on just a few more months.’

It comes as new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that around one in 145 people in private households in England had Covid-19 between February 13 and 19, down from about one in 115 the previous week.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus R value, which measures the rate of spread of the virus, is unchanged at between 0.6 and 0.9 across the UK. 

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