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New Covid vaccine rollout 'will not reach those who need it most', GP warns

"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."

Efforts are being made to vaccinate homeless people

Efforts are being made to vaccinate homeless people. Credit: Steven Cornfield/Unsplash

People experiencing homelessness could be excluded from the Government’s new Covid-19 vaccine priority list, a leading GP has told the Big Issue. 

Ministers have announced an additional 1.7 million people in England will be asked to shield due to new modelling from Oxford University identifying adults at higher risk from Covid-19, with 800,000 clinically vulnerable patients offered a priority vaccine by their GP as a result. 

But Dr Zahid Chauhan, who administered the first-ever vaccinations for a homeless couple in Oldham in last month, asked how GPs could determine if somebody was clinically vulnerable if they hadn’t been assessed.

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Chauhan said: “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.

“To be classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’ a patient would need a GP assessment and since those experiencing homelessness do not attend surgeries for fear of not being treated due to a lack of permanent address, they simply will not qualify.”

Homelessness is not currently considered a reason for priority access to the Covid-19 vaccine and the Government is currently focused on inoculating frontline workers and elderly people. 

But some councils have defied this guidance and people experiencing homelessness in Oldham, Liverpool and Redbridge receiving jabs. 

According to the BBC, the new modelling from Oxford University considers ethnicity, deprivation and weight to work out how vulnerable a person is to Covid-19, rather than just health. 

But Chauhan warned many rough sleepers don’t receive information from news bulletins and said the Government must go further to make sure they aren’t ignored. 

“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,” he added.

“It is my sincere hope that this is not another example of the most vulnerable in our society being ignored. 

Research in Canada found people sleeping rough were five times more likely to die from Covid, and The World Health Organization counts people experiencing homelessness among “sociodemographic groups at significantly higher risk of severe disease or death”. The WHO recommended vaccinating people experiencing homeless in phase two of a rollout in its guidance.

“All local authorities should make vaccinating the homeless a priority as we have in Oldham and Liverpool,” added Dr Chauhan, “and GPs should subscribe to programmes such as Homeless-Friendly which support them in registering and treating those without a permanent address.”

A Government spokesperson said: “This continues to be a challenging period and we’re providing over £700 million this year and £750 million next year to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping through a range of initiatives.

“We are working closely with the NHS to make sure that any homeless person who falls into the current priority groups, set out by the JCVI, can get the vaccine.

“This includes working to help homeless people register with a GP to ensure that, if they are clinically vulnerable, it is recorded and they can be vaccinated at the appropriate time.”

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