THE next phase of Britain’s Covid vaccine roll out will continue to be prioritised by age, scientific advisers have today confirmed.
People aged between 40 and 49 will be next in line for the jab, followed by the 30-39s age group and then all those 18 to 29.
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The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said the move would “provide the greatest benefit in the shortest time”.
It means teachers and police officers will not be able to jump the queue – despite massive pressure to speed up jabs for some in the public sector.
The JCVI concluded that the most effective way to prevent death and hospital admissions is to carry on prioritising people by age, rather than profession.
It said modelling studies for phase 2 of the vaccination programme also indicate that the speed of vaccine deployment is the most important factor in helping prevent severe illness and death.
This means that in phase 2, priority will be given in the following order:
- All those aged 40-49
- All those aged 30-39
- All those aged 18-29
These groups will be vaccinated once all those in phase 1 (the over-50s and most vulnerable) have received a jab.
Ministers aim to have all UK adults jabbed by July, while under-18s are not yet approved for the vaccine.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for the JCVI, told a briefing that age “remains a dominant factor – it is still one of the most important causes of severe disease, even in those aged 50 years and below”.
He said that even within different occupational groups, it is older people who are more at risk than those who are younger.
In a statement, he added: “Vaccinations stop people from dying and the current strategy is to prioritise those who are more likely to have severe outcomes and die from Covid-19.
“The evidence is clear that the risk of hospitalisation and death increases with age.
“The vaccination programme is a huge success and continuing the age-based rollout will provide the greatest benefit in the shortest time, including to those in occupations at a higher risk of exposure.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said the JCVI advice reflected the fact age remains “the strongest factor” linked to death and hospital admission and “the speed of delivery (of vaccines) is crucial.”
She added: “All four parts of the UK will follow the recommended approach, subject to the final advice given by the independent expert committee.
“The UK Government remains on course to meet its target to offer a vaccine to all those in the phase 1 priority groups by mid-April, and all adults by the end of July.”
The JCVI said that targeting occupational groups (such as teachers) would have been more complex to deliver and may slow down the vaccine programme, leaving some vulnerable people at higher risk for longer.
It also said that, operationally, simple and easy-to-deliver programmes are “critical for rapid deployment and high vaccine uptake”.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at Public Health England (PHE), said: “Delivering a vaccination programme on this scale is incredibly complex and the JCVI’s advice will help us continue protecting individuals from the risk of hospitalisation at pace.
“The age-based approach will ensure more people are protected more quickly.
“It is crucial that those at higher risk – including men and BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic communities) communities – are encouraged to take the vaccine, and that local health systems are fully engaged and reaching out to under-served communities to ensure they can access the vaccine.”
But it has come as a blow to those who have been campaigning for teachers, police officers and other frontline key workers to be next on the list.
Last night, Metropolitan Police Federation chairman Ken Marsh criticised the Government: “It’s absolutely disgusting – they don’t give a damn about us.
It’s absolutely disgusting – they don’t give a damn about us
“Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel should hang their heads in shame.”
A headteachers’ union has also said it is “disappointed” the JCVI had decided against prioritising education staff for the next phase of the rollout.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The Government needs to make a policy decision on this matter having insisted that education is a national priority and having announced a ‘big bang’ return to the classroom in England.
“It must now back that up by providing a clear direction that education staff will be prioritised in the next phase of the programme.
“This is important not only in reassuring staff who it expects to work in busy and crowded environments, but also in terms of minimising disruption to education caused by staff absence as a result of Covid.”
But Downing Street has defended the decision not to prioritise key workers such as police officers in the next phase of the coronavirus vaccine rollout.
A No 10 spokesman said: “The JCVI have advised that even in the under 50s, age remains the biggest single factor determining mortality and hospitalisations, so it is therefore right that we accept their advice to continue to prioritise by age as this will protect the most people and have the biggest impact on reducing NHS pressures.
“They are also clear that giving priority to certain professions would not be as effective or as fast in reducing deaths and hospitalisations as protection of those at higher risk of serious disease.
“Prioritisation by age will also protect individuals working in jobs with potentially higher risk of exposure with the most vulnerable in those occupations vaccinated first.”
But scientists have supported the move to continue vaccinating on a age priority basis.
Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, said: “We know that these vaccines are good at protecting from serious disease, and the likelihood of that increases with age.
“Therefore, continuing to target vaccine roll-out according to disease risk makes sense, especially if this simplifies the roll-out process.
“Hopefully we will still see strong vaccine uptake in those groups less likely to suffer from serious disease, as that will help us towards herd immunity and a future free from large numbers of cases of Covid-19.”
Dr Michael Head, senior researcher in Global Health at the University of Southampton, said continuing on an age priority basis is a “reasonable decision” to maintain the current pace of the vaccine roll out.
He added: “There have been discussions around prioritising other front-line workers, such as teachers.
“There is of course merit in this idea. However, the downside is how best to rapidly identify those most at risk among different groups of employees across sectors and efficiently offer them the vaccination.
“For example, do you just prioritise teachers, or also include bus and taxi driver and security staff? If not, then why not and which other job roles do you consider? Where is the dividing line in this risk assessment? It’s not an easy exercise and difficult to get right.
“With such additional complexities, this could simply slow down the roll-out and may delay the point that individuals would be offered the vaccine anyway.
“Therefore, on balance, I think this approach from the JCVI is the best way forward.”
It comes as the Queen urged those hesitant about having the coronavirus jab to get vaccinated.
The head of state, who was inoculated in January, said she understood that people who have never had a vaccine would find it “difficult” but encouraged them to “think about other people rather than themselves”.
The Queen added: “Once you’ve had the vaccine you have a feeling of, you know, you’re protected, which is I think very important.”
On the success of the rollout so far, the Queen said: “I think it is remarkable how quickly the whole thing has been done and so many people have had the vaccine already.”
Elsewhere, hundreds of thousands of people asked to shield in England are being invited for a coronavirus vaccine.
About 1.7 million more people were added to the shielding list last week after experts identified additional adults at serious risk of the virus and NHS England said some 600,000 of that group are now being invited to book a slot.
Meanwhile, new research indicated eight in 10 people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds trust information about vaccines from family members more than from the Government and the media.
The British Red Cross, which commissioned the online survey, said the findings suggest family conversations could be key to tackling vaccine hesitancy among certain BAME groups.
Some 82 per cent of vaccine-hesitant people from BAME communities said they could be convinced to have a jab, with their main concerns ranging from side effects, speed of production and ingredients, the charity said.
It added that 81 per cent of BAME people polled said they would trust information from their family, which is higher than the Government (66 per cent) and mainstream media (50 per cent).
Government data up to February 24 showed a further 448,962 first doses of the coronavirus vaccine and 31,613 second jabs had been administered.
A further 323 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Thursday and there had been a further 9,985 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.