Homeless people and rough sleepers have been added to the list of patients who should now be prioritised for Covid vaccination.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said he has accepted a reprioritisation recommended by the JCVI today, adding that homeless people will be prioritised ‘alongside’ priority group 6.
GPs are currently focusing on vaccinating patients in priority group 6 – clinically vulnerable 16-64s – while patients in cohorts 5, 7 and 8 are being invited to mass vaccination centres and pharmacies.
In making the recommendation, the JCVI said that many people who are homeless or sleeping rough are ‘likely to have underlying health conditions which would place them in priority group 6’ but that they are also ‘likely to be under-diagnosed or not properly reflected in GP records’.
It added that there was a ‘unique opportunity’ to reach this group at the present time as many are currently in emergency accommodation.
The JCVI said that ‘operationally’ it anticipates that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine would be more practical to administer to the group.
And, while the optimal timing for a second dose is 8-12 weeks after the first dose, ‘local decisions should be taken on whether a shorter schedule may be offered if they are unlikely to return for the second dose at 12 weeks’, it added.
Patients should be offered vaccination without the need for a GP registration or NHS number.
JCVI Covid-19 chair Professor Wei Shen Lim said: ‘The JCVI’s advice on Covid-19 vaccine prioritisation was developed with the aim of preventing as many deaths as possible.
‘People experiencing homelessness are likely to have health conditions that put them at higher risk of death from Covid-19.
‘This advice will help us to protect more people who are at greater risk, ensuring that fewer people become seriously ill or die from the virus.’
Mr Hancock said: ‘We know there are heightened risks for those who sleep rough and today I have accepted the advice of the independent experts at the JCVI to prioritise those experiencing rough sleeping or homelessness for vaccination alongside priority group 6.
‘This will mean we will save more lives, among those most at risk in society.’
The update to guidance comes after several local authorities in England had decided to prioritise homeless people for vaccination against Covid outside the JCVI recommendations.
This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.