Big Issue Vendor

Government has ‘moral duty’ to give homeless priority on vaccines

Dr Zahid Chauhan is calling on the Health Secretary to act after he gave out the ‘world’s first’ jabs to a homeless couple this week
Kelly Heney was the second homeless person to get the Covid-19 vaccine in Oldham. Credit: Homeless Friendly

The councillor who spearheaded the first Covid-19 vaccinations for homeless people has written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock demanding priority access to be given to those without a secure home.

In a letter signed by The Big Issue as well as homelessness charities Depaul, Emmaus, Crisis and Homeless Link, Dr Zahid Chauhan calls on Hancock to move homeless people up the pecking order to receive the vaccine.

Currently priority for Covid-19 vaccinations is determined primarily by age according to guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Oldham councillor Dr Chauhan – who also works as a GP and runs homelessness charity Homeless Friendly – was behind the move that saw Lee Ullha and Kelly Heney become the “world’s first” homeless couple to receive a jab earlier this week.

He told The Big Issue that he wanted other local authorities to follow his lead and Redbridge Council in London announced similar plans.

But now Dr Chauhan wants Hancock to take charge and ensure people experiencing homelessness get the jab as a priority alongside the frontline workers who support them. The councillor calls on the Health Secretary to “demonstrate this country has a deep sense of care for all who reside here”.

Lockdowns have taken income away from hundreds of Big Issue sellers. Support The Big Issue and our vendors by signing up for a subscription.

A Government spokesperson told The Big Issue: “This continues to be an enormously challenging period for people right across the country, particularly vulnerable people who have fallen on hard times and are homeless. This is why we have been investing over £700 million on concerted efforts to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.

“The NHS is working tirelessly to bring an end to this pandemic through vaccinations, and the Government is following the independent advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which agrees priority groupings for Covid-19 vaccines.

“This advice is put forward by independent experts and has been developed with the clear aim of preventing as many deaths as possible, and protecting the health and social care system.”

Read Dr Chauhan’s letter in full:

“Secretary of State,

“Recently, we held what we believe to be the first Covid-19 vaccination clinic in the world for people who are homeless, at a homelessness charity in Oldham.

“Amongst those we inoculated were some of the most vulnerable people within our society, with perilously low immune systems, underlying health conditions including asthma and epilepsy and strong evidence of malnutrition and the effects of hypothermia. Since they do not have the same accessibility to news or social media and are indeed dealing with sometimes day-to-day mental health issues, they are sometimes unaware of the progression of the virus and again, are in mortal danger.

A moral duty

“Morally, the clinic felt like the right thing to do, to ensure that those who are most susceptible to the risk of death from COVID-19 are protected. Indeed, we would say that this demonstrates the very best of British values of compassion and care for those less fortunate.

“It is also a salient reminder to us that the average life expectancy of a rough sleeper is just 46 for men and 43 for women.

“Whilst the over 80’s group and indeed front-line health and social carers also sit within the description of most vulnerable, we would strongly encourage you to include those living on our streets in that category, too.

Dr Zahid Chauhan has championed Covid-19 vaccine
Dr Zahid Chauhan Oldham council
Oldham councillor Dr Zahid Chauhan has led the way in helping homeless people access the Covid-19 vaccine. Credit: Homeless Friendly

Fiscal sense and a display of humanity
“There should never be a league table of vulnerability, but we understand that resources are not infinite. People who are homeless are a relatively small group and inoculating them now, means they would avoid the trauma of acute hospital care.

“It is laudable that the top priority category currently features front-line health carers, but that list should include those working directly with people who are homeless.

“These include the faith-based volunteers and charitable organisations who take to
our streets to offer hope – and are risking their lives at this time to do so.

An opportunity to really reach-out
“Finally, we would argue that this is the ideal opportunity to reach out to people who
are homeless, remind them that they are part of our society and that we are here to
help them regain control of their lives.

“We urge you to take the lead and demonstrate to the rest of the world and indeed history, that this country has at its heart, a deep sense of care for all who reside here including those most in need.

“Please add people who are homeless to the priority list for Covid vaccinations.

“With kind regards, Zahid Chauhan