By Thom Kelly (MA Journalism)
HOMELESS people will be will be prioritised in the covid-19 vaccine roll-out, it has been confirmed.
At a Cheshire West and Chester council meeting on January 27, a spokesperson for Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) confirmed that homeless people in the area would be placed in the fourth priority group, with the aim of inoculating them by mid-February.
There are currently 10 groups, with more than half the UK population classified in group 10, the lowest priority.
Clare Watson, representing the CCG, listed specific groups which need to be targeted to ensure the take-up of the vaccine, including rough sleepers, traveller and boating communities, asylum seekers and those accessing drug, alcohol and/or NHS mental health services.
She also confirmed local agreement that individuals experiencing homelessness fall into the category of ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ – part of the fourth priority group for vaccination.
Councillor Louise Gittins said that she was “made up” about the news, and that it was “great to see how we’re working together.”
So far, more than 9 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a covid-19 vaccine, in line with the target of 2 million doses per week.
This group includes everyone aged 70-74 and individuals who are classed as ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ (excluding pregnant people and anyone under 16), and the rollout of vaccines among this group has already begun nationwide.
Figures released by the Housing Ministry in March last year revealed that, even prior to the covid-19 pandemic, homelessness was on the rise in the UK, with over 35,000 families or individuals homeless in England – an increase of almost 10% on the previous year.
Susan Blyth, manager of the Room at the Inn project in Warrington, said that the charity is continuing to help homeless and vulnerable people register at GP services to expedite vaccination.
She added: “In this pandemic, local community hubs have come into their own… It’s very hard for [homeless] people who don’t have a voice – they’re just trying to get by day-to-day.”
Acording to Ms Blyth, the pandemic created a “bottleneck” of homeless individuals being stuck in temporary accommodation for longer as restrictions have increased waiting times for social housing, as well as leading to higher numbers of people needing financial help.
She also explained that there had been a “battle with health authorities” to keep services open to vulnerable people, as issues like access to phones and computers, essential for claiming universal credit or benefits, were “completely overlooked”.
Despite no cases of covid-19 among people being sheltered by the organisation during the first lockdown, they still faced backlash, with claims that keeping services open would encourage gatherings.
The CCG also outlined plans to increase engagement with the vaccination programme, and encourage ‘hard-to-reach’ groups to accept a vaccine.
Using a broad network of local voluntary organisations, community outreach programmes, social media ad campaigns, as well as more traditional forms of communication as part of a “targeted and layered approach,” their spokesperson said they aimed to ensure that as many people as possible are not only offered a jab, but will also take it.