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Councils urged to vaccinate homeless as fears grow over ‘postcode lottery’

"When we say prioritise people experiencing homelessness, we mean everyone"
The Covid vaccine is being rolled out for more people affected by homelessness. Image credit: The Joint Staff / Flickr

Local leaders who went against Government advice and vaccinated vulnerable homeless people have urged local authorities to follow in their footsteps and offer jabs to rough sleepers as an “urgent public health duty”.

Liverpool, Oldham, and Redbridge led the way in protecting the most vulnerable from Covid-19, offering jabs to rough sleepers alongside other vulnerable groups in January. 

Now, Dr Zahid Chauhan, who administered the first-ever jabs for a homeless couple in Oldham last month, and Paula Barker, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, have signed a letter calling on others to do the same. 

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The letter, endorsed by Museum of Homelessness and other organisations supporting the vulnerable, read: “People experiencing homelessness are some of the most vulnerable within our society, with underlying health conditions including asthma and epilepsy, and strong evidence of malnutrition and the effects of hypothermia.

“Further, social distancing is severely compromised in the temporary housing which people experiencing homelessness are currently placed in. 

“We argue that implementing a holistic programme to vaccinate and support people experiencing homelessness, is an urgent public health duty for all local authorities to uphold.” 

The letter came as a growing number of cities, towns and local authorities began vaccinating people experiencing homelessness. 

Homeless Link, which represents homelessness charities, said it was aware of 14 areas offering vaccinations or about to do so imminently. 

These include Birmingham, Manchester, Wolverhampton, Westminster, Kensington, Hammersmith, Brent, Ealing, Hounslow, Harrow and Hillingdon as well as Liverpool, Oldham, and Redbridge. 

Newcastle City Council also told The Big Issue it had offered homeless workers the vaccine and hoped to begin inoculating people accessing rough sleeping services soon.

It’s unclear which of these areas are prioritising the homeless for vaccinations and which are offering jabs as part of a wider rollout. 

The Government insists it is working with the NHS to make sure homeless people are registered with a GP and recorded as clinically vulnerable if necessary but homelessness is not currently considered a reason for priority access to the Covid-19 vaccine. 

However, some local authorities, most notably Liverpool, Oldham, and Redbridge, chose to disregard this advice and vaccinate homeless people as many have health problems which put them at higher risk of the virus.

When we say prioritise people experiencing homelessness, we mean everyone”

Homeless Link chief executive Rick Henderson warned of a “postcode lottery” in the local authorities including homeless people in their vaccine rollout plans.

“While a growing number of local authorities are now including people experiencing homelessness in their plans for vaccination, we are concerned that a postcode lottery is in place and we would urge more local areas to take action,” Henderson said. 

“The consequences of inconsistent practice could be serious, possibly leading to virus outbreaks and increased transmission among those accessing, living and working in homeless services and accommodation.

“The situation needs to be rectified with clearer Government instructions and guidance for local authorities.”

The letter signed by Chauhan and Barker said more councils should move all people experiencing homelessness to the highest priority level for vaccination, regardless of GP registration.

“When we say prioritise people experiencing homelessness, we mean everyone,” it added.