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Covid-19 vaccine: Scotland will offer vaccine priority to homeless people

Scottish Health Secretary Jeanne Freeman confirmed Scotland would follow England and Wales’ lead to offer access to jabs from mid-April

People experiencing homelessness in Scotland will be given priority access to a Covid-19 vaccine, the Scottish Government has announced,  in a week which saw the Westminster and Welsh Governments confirm they would do the same.

Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman revealed rough sleepers as well as those living in emergency and supported accommodation will be eligible for the life-saving jab in priority group six alongside people aged between 16 and 65 who are in an at-risk group.

The advice is in line with the approach taken in other UK nations this week after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) changed guidance on the vaccine rollout this week.

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Speaking in the Scottish Government’s daily briefing Freeman said: “We fully expect to be able to offer first doses to the remaining priority groups by mid-April.

“Based on the most recent advice from the JCVI we have agreed that these priority groups will include rough sleepers, people in emergency accommodation and people in supported accommodation. They will be vaccinated alongside priority group 6 in the programme.”

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In total, just over 1.8m people have received the first dose of the vaccine in Scotland with 149,000 of those also having a second jab.

More than 400,000 doses are set to be delivered next week, with people experiencing homelessness included as part of the Scottish Government strategy for the first time from mid-April.

Both the UK Government and devolved administrations had followed JCVI advice and determined priority access to the vaccine largely using age.

JCVI’s Covid-19 chair Professor Wei Shen Lim penned a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock earlier this week recommending a change in guidance to acknowledge a “unique opportunity” to inoculate people experiencing homelessness.

Professor Lim wrote: “Due to current restrictions, many thousands of people who experience rough sleeping have been accommodated in emergency accommodation. This provides a unique opportunity to in-reach vaccination to a population that is otherwise often unable to access basic healthcare.”

The Welsh Government announced it would be prioritising homeless people for vaccinations on March 10 with Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething insisting the country’s vaccine rollout would have “no one left behind”.

The UK Government revealed it would follow suit a day later.

Homelessness charities and campaigners have urged leaders to offer priority access to those without a secure home since the rollout began in January, citing a greater likelihood of underlying health conditions that could leave the group vulnerable to Covid-19.

“People without a home experience severe health inequalities, including being almost twice as likely to have heart disease and respiratory conditions which will increase their risk from Covid-19,” said Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis.

“It is vital that, working with homelessness services, all local areas have the resources they need to ensure everyone sleeping rough and in temporary accommodation can be offered the vaccine as soon as possible.”

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