Exclusive: Free-for-all as councils offer Covid jabs to staff before elderly

Bill Gardner
·5-min read
A health worker prepares to administer Covid vaccines as the national rollout continues - Jason Cairnduff/Reuters
A health worker prepares to administer Covid vaccines as the national rollout continues - Jason Cairnduff/Reuters
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

Council workers and nursery teachers have been offered Covid vaccinations ahead of the over-70s as the unequal supply of jabs appeared to be fuelling a free-for-all.

Two Conservative-controlled councils secured vaccinations for their staff this week and offered jabs to thousands of nursery workers in defiance of the Government's priority list, The Telegraph can disclose.

It comes amid concern that the rollout of the vaccination programme has slowed since the weekend. The latest daily figures show 204,076 jabs administered across Britain, compared with 324,000 on Friday.

Ministers have been accused of presiding over a postcode lottery after it emerged that Sandwich in Kent is among a number of areas not to have received a single vial of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines.

NHS data revealed that fewer than one in 20 people have been vaccinated in London, compared with one in 12 in the North-East and Yorkshire and the South-West.

On Tuesday, areas with plentiful supply of vaccines appeared to be ignoring the Government's guidance. Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council this week secured vaccinations for children's services staff working in secondary schools, many of whom are understood to be working from home.

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According to the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation priority list, only social care workers looking after clinically vulnerable adults and children are currently eligible for jabs.

In a joint letter seen by The Telegraph, the two councils also told around 28,000 early years nursery workers that an agreement for vaccines had been secured with the local NHS.

"We submitted estimated staff numbers last week and I have just received confirmation that there is capacity beginning this week to support beginning those vaccinations," the letter reads, adding that there is "a significant amount of vaccine" to go round.

A number of nursery workers are understood to have already been vaccinated across Cambridgeshire, where sources said around 80 per cent of 80-year-olds in many areas have already been given the jab.

However, the council reversed the plan on Tuesday afternoon after senior Government and NHS officials intervened, it is understood. An NHS source said it was the local authority's responsibility to book their vaccinations according to the JCVI list, adding: "We can't check everyone."

Councillor John Holdich, the leader of Peterborough City Council, said officials were prioritising doses according to the supply of vaccine and local need. "You've got to look at locally what your problems are," he said. "Obviously, we are quite densely populated. Whether it is a school, or whether it's the people that are serving it, that's where we're looking."

A spokesman for Cambridgeshire County Council said officials had since "clarified" to schools and nurseries that "at this stage, the eligibility for the vaccine will only include staff who provide personal care and support".

A spokesman for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group said: "The NHS in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough provides vaccination appointment slots for the local authority, who are asked to ensure those invited are in line with the priority groups set out by the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation and in accordance with national guidance."

Latest UK vaccines embed
Latest UK vaccines embed

Downing Street was unable to provide an explanation for why some regions are lagging behind others in the delivery of vaccines. The Prime Minister's official spokesman insisted all parts of the country had "equal access to supply", adding: "We will put more supply into areas that have more to do."

On Monday, Boris Johnson announced that those aged 70 and over could now be offered vaccines in areas where the vast majority of those over 80 have had a jab.

NHS guidance released on Tuesday night says that, in situations where vaccines could go to waste, they could be given to those outside the priority groups. The advice to GPs says this should only be done if there is a risk that current stock "will become unviable if unused".

It also says doctors should be "pragmatic" in ensuring that members of households who fall within the top four priority groups can be offered the jabs at the same time.

The NHS England guidance says that within those groups – which cover all those over 70 – the priorities do not have to be kept in strict order, meaning a woman in her 70s could be offered the jab at the same time as her husband in his 80s rather than expecting each age group to be done in turn.

An NHS spokesman said: "As the guidance states, this is about giving GPs maximum flexibility to vaccinate all of those in the top four priority groups. So, for example, someone over 70 accompanying their extremely clinically vulnerable daughter or son could be jabbed at the same time without the need for an appointment."

Meanwhile, Downing Street rejected suggestions that Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, should receive a vaccine early because he is leading the response to the pandemic after he went into self-isolation.

"We don't think it's right that the PM or other members of Cabinet take the vaccine in place of somebody who is at higher clinical risk," the Prime Minister's spokesman said.

He added that Mr Hancock was following the rules and exercising when he was seen in a London park over the weekend, saying: "We've been clear that everybody needs to follow the guidance, and it remains the case that people are allowed outside to exercise which is what I believe Matt Hancock was doing."

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