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‘Proud of this city’: 500 homeless people given Covid-19 vaccine in Liverpool

Liverpool City Council followed Oldham and Redbridge in choosing to protect vulnerable rough sleepers despite government guidance

More than 500 people experiencing homelessness have been given a Covid-19 vaccine in Liverpool over the weekend as the council became the latest authority to offer jabs.

Homelessness is not currently considered a reason for priority access to the Covid-19 vaccine with the Westminster Government currently focused on vaccinating frontline workers and elderly people. So far, 6.3 million people have received their first dose across the UK.

But some councils have defied the guidance to protect homeless people with Oldham and Redbridge leading the way. Liverpool followed this weekend with a mass rollout of vaccines to 500 people who are being sheltered from the virus in council accomodation.

The Acting Mayor of Liverpool, councillor Wendy Simon, said: “I’m proud that as a city we always look to protect and support the most vulnerable in our community. Covid-19 has presented a huge challenge to us all, not least those who are on the fringe of society and are struggling with the trauma of being homeless and trying to survive on the streets.

“It’s vital this group of people are offered vaccination alongside the council’s offer of accommodation, as they are in a high risk situation, and their immunity will also provide protection to those who work closely with them and the wider population.”

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Currently age is the most important factor when deciding who receives the vaccine first, according to guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

The UK Government hopes to vaccinate the first four priority categories — including those aged over 80 and key workers, totalling 13 million people — by mid-February.

Local leaders in Liverpool say the step will not impact on the roll-out of the vaccination programme for other key groups.

And getting the Covid-19 vaccine was a relief for Anthony Badarock who received the jab on Saturday. He said: “I really am glad I’ve had it because it’s getting worse and worse this virus thing.”

One of the key workers carrying out the jabs, Dr Debby Faint, clinical lead for homeless service at Liverpool clinic Brownlow Health, insisted that underlying health conditions among homeless people meant urgent action was required. 

“You can quantify their risk and multiply it by five and you’ve probably got a good indication of how vulnerable they are,” she said. “We had three goals really: protect these vulnerable people, protect the NHS and protect the workers who wraparound them and people who are out and about on the streets as well.”

Michelle Langan, founder of Liverpool homelessness charity The Paper Cup Project, was among the group of local campaigners who had urged Liverpool City Council to offer vaccinations.

I think Liverpool is one of the few cities where Covid-19 has, in a weird way, been a really positive thing for homelessness

Langan praised the local authority for their work. She told The Big Issue “It’s great news and it has been a success for people taking up the offer of vaccinations as well. I think the council has been really quick and the numbers have been really big in Liverpool too.

“I think the overwhelming feedback will be that people will be pleased to be protected.”

The latest official statistics show 205 people had moved into permanent accommodation after being protected from the coronavirus in Liverpool. The council was still protecting 160 people ahead of the third national lockdown, when efforts were ramped up again to protect people experiencing homelessness.

Langan added: “I think Liverpool is one of the few cities where Covid-19 has, in a weird way, been a really positive thing for homelessness.

“The response to tackling it has been so good and it has been so good to see people getting into permanent accommodation.”

Lee Ullha, 46, and Kelly Heney, 38, were believed to be the “world’s first” homeless people to receive the jab in Oldham earlier this month. Local councilor, GP and homeless charity founder Dr Zahid Chauhan spearheaded the move. He told The Big Issue: “We all understand that every single second matters in these people’s lives and we didn’t want to delay and waste time.”

Redbridge Council in London also vowed to vaccinate people experiencing homelessness as a priority.

Pope Francis, too, has taken similar steps to offer free vaccinations – 25 homeless people were given jabs in the atrium of the Paul VI hall at The Vatican last week.

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