Leaders in Oldham will have become the first in the UK to give homeless people priority access to the Covid-19 vaccine after the local council defied Government guidance to offer out jabs.
The Greater Manchester local authority’s cabinet member for adult health and social care, Dr Zahid Chauhan, has spearheaded a plan to ensure homeless people in the area will not miss out on the potentially life-saving doses as Covid-19 cases continue to soar.
Age is currently the key factor when determining priority, following recommendations from the independent advisory group the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). The Government hopes to vaccinate the first four priority categories — totalling 13 million people — by mid-February.
— Zahid Chauhan, OBE (@ChauhanZahid) January 4, 2021
But Dr Chauhan, who has been working on the frontline as a GP throughout the pandemic while also running homelessness charity Homeless Friendly, has called on other local authorities to follow his lead.
“Every authority and commissioning group should be prioritising homeless people. It should be a national priority,” said Dr Chauhan. “Unfortunately we are trying to find solutions to national problems locally and I’m hoping that will set an example and others will come through too. I’m trying to do my bit.”
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Councillors backed Dr Chauhan’s plan to work with local GPs on Monday with specific plans to get the vaccine to homeless people to be developed out in the next few weeks.
Since the Covid-19 vaccine rollout began in Oldham last month, 3,700 local residents over the age of 80 and frontline workers have received doses of the vaccine.
In a report published at the end of last year, the JCVI recommended that homelessness and other inequalities should not be taken into account when selecting priority groups, warning of “reinforcing negative stereotypes and increasing experiences of stigma and discrimination” by doing so.
I would say to Boris Johnson: ‘Please be humane, do not discriminate against these people’
But Dr Chauhan insisted people experiencing homelessness should be prioritised to receive the Covid-19 vaccine and that councils are well-placed to reach people who are not registered with a GP or distrust services thanks to past efforts to hand out flu jabs.
He added: “They are as much citizens of this country as anyone else and just because no one is speaking up for them they should not be left to die alone in cold weather with Covid where no one will notice. This is inhumane.
“We have well established pathways so we know how to find these people and where they are and how to contact them and I think the whole country has systems in place for that.
“I would say to Boris Johnson: ‘Please be humane, do not discriminate against these people’.”
At national level, homelessness charities are also calling for a rethink on where people without a permanent home sit among priority lists.
Crisis chief executive John Sparkes demanded priority access to the Covid-19 vaccine is given to homeless people in his response to Johnson’s new national lockdown announcement on Monday.
“People who are homeless face severe health inequalities and, as such, we call on the government to ensure that they are prioritised for Covid-19 vaccines, something that will be aided greatly by having a safe and stable home,” Sparkes said.
And the national membership group for frontline services Homeless Link has made the same call. Chief executive Rick Henderson insisted “there is no question of this need for priority status”.