Unions call for frontline UK workers to be prioritised for Covid vaccine

Unions call for frontline UK workers to be prioritised for Covid vaccine

Unite wants key workers included alongside elderly and healthcare staff in early stages of immunisation.

The unions, representing more than 1.8 million employees, say that by prioritising only the elderly and health and social care workers, the distribution plan fails to protect other key workers with increased risk of exposure.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Unions call for frontline UK workers to be prioritised for Covid vaccine” was written by Matthew Weaver and Haroon Siddique, for The Guardian on Friday 20th November 2020 07.00 UTC

Unions have called for key frontline workers to be granted priority access to an approved Covid vaccine after they were omitted from the list of those who should receive it first.

The unions, representing more than 1.8 million employees, say that by prioritising only the elderly and health and social care workers, the distribution plan fails to protect other key workers with increased risk of exposure.

Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary of Unite, said: “It is absolutely correct that social care staff and health workers receive the vaccine at an early stage so they are protected and are not at risk of inadvertently transmitting the virus.

“However there are many other key workers who have suffered greatly during the pandemic and they should also receive appropriate prioritisation in receiving the vaccine.

“What is absolutely imperative is that there is a clear and transparent list of priority groups and we do not see a free for all or queue jumping by the wealthy.”

Analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested workers in England and Wales at greater risk of death from Covid during the first wave of the pandemic included security guards, taxi and bus drivers, vehicle technicians and mechanics and retail workers. The ONS said: “Many of the occupations in these groups will have continued working during the pandemic and would be unable to work from home, possibly increasing their chances of catching the virus.”

The greater exposure to key workers has also been linked to the disproportionate risk ethnic minorities have faced from coronavirus. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said that a third of all working-age British black Africans are employed in key worker roles – 50% more than the share of the white British population.

Zubaida Haque, a member of Independent Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) said: “One of the key reasons BAME (black and minority ethnic) communities have been more vulnerable to infection and severity of this disease is because we’ve got a high proportion of BAME people among key workers. Key workers such as delivery drivers, taxi drivers, public transport workers, professional cleaners, as well as the doctors and the nurses.”

Endorsing the need for key workers to be prioritised, Manuel Cortes, general secretary of TSSA, referenced last week’s Covid outbreak at Manchester Piccadilly railway station, which saw 11 staff test positive and dozens more sent home.

“After the vulnerable, and healthcare and social care workers, other essential workers must be vaccinated before the general population,” he said. “As we saw with the outbreak in Manchester Piccadilly just last week, transport workers are on the frontline of the pandemic. They are key to keeping the country moving and should be given priority when it comes to vaccination.”

Paddy Lillis, general secretary of Usdaw which represents shop and distribution workers, concurred with the need to vaccinate the vulnerable first, but added: “We would also call on the government to ensure that retail workers and delivery drivers are given priority as the vaccine is rolled out to the general population. They come into contact with hundreds of customers every day and that needs to be taken into consideration when assessing their risk level.”

Prof Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said: “The JCVI’s interim advice is that older people and health and social care workers are prioritised for Covid-19 vaccination.

“This recommendation was made with the aim of preventing as many deaths as possible.”

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