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Councils urged to speed up homeless vaccinations as new guidelines released

Experts say the guidance does allow local areas flexibility, but the Government needs to make sure councils are aware of this

Covid-19 vaccine

The Covid vaccine is being rolled out across the country. Image: Sam Moqadam/Unsplash

People experiencing homelessness won’t be prioritised in the next phase of the UK’s vaccine programme, despite Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick asking councils to “redouble their efforts” to inoculate rough sleepers. 

New advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which the Government has followed so far, continues to recommend an age-based approach. 

The JCVI said there is evidence to suggest this is the most effective way of reducing death and hospitalisation from Covid-19. 

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Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said the guidance did allow local areas flexibility in delivering the vaccine, but the councils needed to know this was possible to speed up the rollout and protect the most vulnerable. 

“People who are homeless face severe health inequalities which put them at greater risk of Covid-19, so it is vital they are vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Sparkes said. 

“Guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation does give local areas flexibility in delivering the vaccine, with concerted efforts having been taken in Oldham, Liverpool and London to vaccinate people who are homeless.

“These proactive efforts are vital in reaching people who often face barriers to healthcare.

“We need the UK government to ensure local leaders across the country know this is possible within the guidance and have the resource to make it happen.”

At a speech to the Centre for Social Justice on Thursday, Jenrick said the homeless “will not be forgotten” when it comes to vaccination. 

“Last night we asked all local authorities to redouble their efforts to safely accommodate as many rough sleepers as they can and to register them with a GP, as a good in itself, but also as a precursor to vaccination,” he said. 

“At this crucial stage in our vaccination programme, there really is no time to waste.” 

Sue Christoforou, policy manager at Homeless Link, said this was right, but it was important vaccination was carried out in all areas as quickly as possible.

“We agreed with the secretary of state’s assertion that there is no time to waste in the roll-out of the vaccination offer to all homeless people,” she said. 

“In many areas, this is already happening and must be replicated across the country, as soon as is logistically possible.”

St Mungo’s chief executive Steve Douglas CBE added: “St Mungo’s has been working hard to ensure as many of our clients as possible are able to access the vaccine. 

“We have helped with GP registration, have been liaising closely with our local authority and NHS partners to facilitate vaccination sessions on-site at our services, and in several areas mobile health teams have been operating to ensure people who are still on the streets are also offered the vaccine.   

“We are pleased that many local authorities have recognised the vulnerability and health inequalities of people experiencing homelessness and have already included them in the priority cohorts as we recommended in our recent Housing and Health report.

“And we would urge all councils to adopt a similar approach to ensure people who are homeless are able to get this potentially life-saving vaccine as soon as possible.”

More areas are rolling out the vaccine to people affected by homelessness, including Birmingham, Manchester, Wolverhampton, Westminster, Kensington, Hammersmith, Brent, Ealing, Hounslow, Harrow and Hillingdon, as well as trailblazers Liverpool, Oldham, and Redbridge. 

Last week, Homeless Link warned of a “postcode lottery” in the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine for rough sleepers. 

There are also fears that the vaccine roll-out will miss the most vulnerable, such as those sleeping rough, as they are less likely to have a fixed address, be registered with a GP or have access to traditional channels of information. 

Dr Zahid Chauhan, who administered the first-ever vaccinations for a homeless couple in Oldham in last month, expressed concern last week over how homeless people can be guaranteed the vaccine if they do not have access to a GP. 

“Without a major outreach programme, the Government’s decision to roll-out the Covid-19 vaccine to those with serious health conditions will not reach those who need it most, namely the homeless and others disengaged from the mainstream,” he said. 

“Those living on our streets do not receive their information from news bulletins or via social media platforms and therefore the Government must utilise other forms of communication, preferably in person.”

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