The Police Federation and teachers unions have strongly criticised today’s the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation announcement over phase 2 of the Covid-19 inoculation programme, with the federation saying the government was ‘hiding behind the science’.
The JCVI, which is comprised of 20 public health and epidemiology experts, stated that continuing to distribute the vaccine on the basis of age was the safest and simplest way of cutting the spread of coronavirus.
However, the national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, John Apter, angrily rejected the committee’s policy decision, calling it “a deep and damaging betrayal that will not be forgotten” after the plans did not include any focused provision for police officers.
He added: “This announcement shows a complete lack of understanding about policing this pandemic and is an utter betrayal of police officers. My colleagues have been on the frontline since the first national lockdown last March, risking infection and even death to keep the public safe.
“Together with others across policing, we have never said police officers should jump the queue but should be prioritised. It’s right that the most vulnerable and health and care workers were vaccinated; but what about police officers who cannot mitigate against the risks of contracting and spreading this deadly virus? Yet the calls to prioritise policing have been ignored.”
He added that the nature of police work meant social distancing was often not possible as police often had to enter homes, get close to people and visit hospitals.
Apter said his members were sick of warm words, warning that the federation would “explore every possible avenue open to us” to protect members “from this deadly virus and this complacent government”.
He said: “Many officers are reporting sick or self-isolating and our numbers are falling, sometimes dangerously low. We have also lost a number of colleagues to this virus too. Yet the government continue to hide behind the science of the JCVI. What about a moral duty to my colleagues and their families?”
Workers’ representatives from the education sector were also critical of the JCVI restatement of its vaccination priorities.
Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of teachers’ union the NASUWT, said the failure to prioritise school staff cast doubt on plans to reopen schools. “The government has said that getting pupils back to school is its number one priority, but is failing to take all steps possible to ensure that this happens and that schools remain open without the risk of further closures or of further damaging disruption to children’s education.
“There is a need for leadership from the government on this issue. There has been overwhelming support from across the political spectrum for teachers and education staff to be made a priority for vaccinations, including support from the education secretary.
Roach added: “Ministers must now consider what this means for their plans to open schools and keep them open.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, reinforced Roach’s point, and said that if the government was serious about its “big bang” schools return then teachers should be prioritised.
He said: “We are disappointed that the JCVI has not advised the prioritisation of education staff in the next phase of the Covid vaccine programme.”
Both health secretary Matt Hancock and education secretary Gavin Williamson had raised hopes among teachers that they would be prioritised in recent weeks.
The JCVI said priority based on jobs would be overly complex and would slow down the vaccination process, leaving more vulnerable people unprotected for longer.
According to the committee the following groups should be prioritised, once all at-risk groups in phase one have been offered at least one dose of the vaccine (by mid-April):
- all those aged 40-49 years
- all those aged 30-39 years
- all those aged 18-29 years
Professor Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s Covid immunisation chair, said age “remains a dominant factor” and that making this a priority would also make the programme more “simple”.
He added: “Simplicity has been a cornerstone in terms of speed and success.
“An occupation-based vaccination programme has never been tested; trying to switch will be more complex and potentially introduce more delays into the programme.”