Teachers and police officers could start getting Covid vaccines by April, with them expected to be first in line once the over-50s have been jabbed.
Britain is on course to have offered first doses to all 15million in the top four priority groups — over-70s, care home residents and staff, NHS workers, and the seriously ill — by next Monday.
The roll-out will then be expanded to 65 to 69-year-olds, before working down the age groups until as many vulnerable Britons are covered as possible. No10 hopes to have offered jabs to all 32million in the top nine priority groups by the end of April.
There is currently no recommendation for who should be prioritised once the over-50s are vaccinated.
But the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI), which designed the UK’s priority list, is expected to say Britons in frontline roles will be next in line, Whitehall sources told The Telegraph.
It is thought the decision will be officially announced in the week starting February 22, when Boris Johnson is set to unveil his lockdown-easing plan.
The move comes as police officers have been told they can get the Covid-19 jab at health centres with spare capacity but must wear plain clothes in order not to draw attention to themselves.
Force leaders were said to have felt ‘betrayed’ when Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced this week that frontline officers may have to wait months for jabs. But the Mail has learnt of an arrangement with the NHS that lets police receive a vaccine if there is spare capacity at a centre and the jab would otherwise go to waste.
There are mounting fears that the UK’s vaccination drive has slowed, after Francis Crick Institute head Sir Paul Nurse revealed 90 per cent of appointments at their London-based clinic had not been filled for two weeks.
The vaccination hub at Taunton Racecourse, Somerset, has also had to cut its opening times by five hours and temporarily stand down some staff. It had the capacity to reach 900 Britons a day.
Teachers and police could start receiving their coronavirus vaccines in April, after everyone over 50 has got their first dose. Police officers have been told they can get vaccinated at health centres with spare capacity – but must wear plain clothes and not their uniforms so as not to draw attention to themselves
The Covid vaccination centre at Taunton Racecourse in Somerset, pictured, has also cut its opening times by five hours. It could give out 900 shots a day
Sir Paul Nurse, the head of the Francis Crick Institute in London, has said their vaccination centre has had 90 per cent of its appointments going unused for two weeks. It comes amid mounting concern of a mass slowdown in the drive
STUNNING 90% OF APPOINTMENTS GOING SPARE AT LONDON COVID JABS HUB, SAYS TOP SCIENTIST
More than 90 per cent of coronavirus vaccine appointments at a centre in London are not being filled, a top scientist has revealed.
Sir Paul Nurse, the head of the Francis Crick Institute where a jabs centre is based, said they had the capacity to give 1,000 doses a day, but in the last two weeks have given less than 100 every 24 hours.
He added that on one day they barely managed to fill 30 appointments, despite more than 500 volunteers being available.
Their centre is now having to close at weekends due to the few bookings.
Sir Nurse called on ministers to sort out the problem today to get the national rollout moving, saying ministers must use every second they have available.
‘The NHS vaccination program has gone very well but there does seem to be a problem showing itself in empty slots appearing in the national booking system,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘We did raise it with the Minister for Vaccination, I contacted him two weeks ago.
‘He spoke to me graciously earlier this week, so they are aware of the problem, and he said he expects or hopes that this problem will go away in the next few days.
‘And we really do need it to go away in the next few days because any delay in the vaccination program in the long-run costs lives and livelihoods.’
He added it was unclear why the issue was occurring, but it may be linked to a shortage of doses, to avoid criticism by not vaccinating all those in higher categories, or down to a postcode lottery in distribution.
‘But there is something amiss. We need to find out what it is and then correct it and find out what’s going wrong, and fix it.’
A vaccination centre in Telford has also reported few of its available appointments are being filled.
And the hub at Taunton Racecourse in Somerset has cut its opening times by five hours and told some staff they are temporarily not needed amid the slowdown.
Revealing that teachers and other key workers were going to be next in line behind over-50s, a source told the newspaper there was a ‘clear focus’ on giving early priority to key workers, which also includes bus drivers and deliverymen.
‘The JCVI will need to see the latest data on transmission before they make their recommendations,’ they said.
‘But we have been clear that there are two things: Firstly, protecting those most at risk of hospitalisation overall, largely as a result of age, which is what the first cohort covers; and then looking at those whose roles increase their risk.
‘The transmission data will inform the exact recommendations but it is clear that teachers and police will be given early priority.’
Police officers have already been given the green light to get Covid jabs if there are leftover stocks, providing they are in plain clothes and not in official vehicles so as not to draw attention to themselves.
In an internal memo, staff are advised that they cannot be seen to receive preferential treatment that would contradict the Government’s decision not to prioritise police.
It also emerged that some officers have sidestepped even this discreet arrangement by booking jabs through services meant for NHS staff.
Scotland Yard said last month that five Met officers had died with Covid in little more than a fortnight. A custody sergeant, three constables and a traffic police community officer died between January 11 and January 26.
Met Police bosses circulated the jabs memo after officers shared a link on WhatsApp that allowed them to ignore the agreed protocols and book in for vaccinations at Hillingdon Hospital in west London, via a link originally intended for health workers.
Officers were urged not to use the link but if they had already booked an appointment then they should ‘still attend but in plainclothes or a plainclothes jacket and not in marked vehicles’.
There are 15million people in the top four priority groups, who are all set to have their first dose by mid-February, and 17million between 69 and 50 years old.
Providing 345,000 jabs are administered daily from February 15, all those over 50 should be covered by April 7, according to a MailOnline analysis.
But ministers are already giving out 434,301 jabs a day on average, the latest figures show, suggesting they could cover all those over-50 even earlier.
The rollout could also be slowed by the need to start administering second doses once the 12-week gap is up, which will reduce the capacity to give out first doses.
Experts have already raised fears that the operation is not going fast enough, and cautioned ministers are so focussed on getting jabs to the top four priority groups that the rollout is being slowed in areas where this target has been reached.
Sir Nurse warned today that although they had 500 volunteers and could vaccinate 1,000 patients a day, they had been seeing fewer than 100 for the past fortnight and sometimes only 30 in a day.
‘The NHS vaccination program has gone very well but there does seem to be a problem showing itself in empty slots appearing in the national booking system,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘We’ve also had to close the centre at weekends.’
‘I know there’s similar problems elsewhere. The BBC reported a similar problem in Telford, for example. So why are only five to 10 per cent of the booking slots being filled? That’s the concern to us.’
He added he didn’t know the reasons for the low number of appointments being filled, but urged ministers to ‘correct’ the issue.
The NHS England statistics, which go up to February 7, show Somerset had given at least one dose to 93.4 per cent of all of its over-70s. Derbyshire was second, with 92.5 per cent of people above that age having received their first shot of either Pfizer’s of Oxford University’s vaccine
‘It could be because of vaccine shortage, it could be to avoid criticism, as you’ve implied, in the media about not vaccinating those in a higher category before lower categories. It could be around the country, so called postcode lottery. It may be that people don’t like to go to the vaccination centres and prefer GP surgeries.
‘But there is something amiss. We need to find out what it is and then correct it and find out what’s going wrong, fix it. Because science has provided us with the tools to move forward and we need to use them as rapidly as possible, we do need to vaccinate faster.’
IS YOUR AREA WINNING IN THE VACCINES ROLLOUT?
Parts of England have already dished out Covid vaccines to nearly 95 per cent of their over-70s, official figures revealed today as the NHS races toward its goal of jabbing the top four priority groups by Monday.
The NHS England statistics, which go up to February 7, show Somerset had given at least one dose to 93.4 per cent of all of its over-70s. Derbyshire was second, with 92.5 per cent of people above that age having received their first shot of either Pfizer’s of Oxford University’s vaccine.
The figures, which split England up into 40 areas where local NHS divisions operate, found another five areas had given the injection to more than nine in 10 of over-70s. They are: Cambridgeshire and Peterborough; Lancashire and South Cumbria; Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire; Coventry and Warwickshire; and Herefordshire and Worcestershire.
But the figures suggest the roll-out has been somewhat of a postcode lottery, with just 76.3 per cent of the age bracket in east London being given their first dose, for example. In the North of the capital, uptake was not much higher at 78.2 per cent and in North West London it was similarly low, at 78.4 per cent.
Staff at the Taunton Racecourse vaccination hub have also revealed they were sent home at 3pm on Thursday, five hours early, after running out of ‘eligible’ patients from the four top priority groups.
The hub has been running from 8am to 8pm, vaccinating up to 900 people a day, since it was opened last month. But several people working at the centre have been told they will not now be needed for the next two weeks.
One health worker at the site blasted the early closure, which they said was because the centre had to wait for other parts of the country to catch up with their vaccinations.
‘This is all political and deeply shocking,’ they told MailOnline. ‘They’ve decided the 70-plus cohort needs to be completed nationwide before Taunton can move to the 65-70 group.
‘They are worried about people in other areas of the country asking, “how come the 65s in Somerset are getting vaccinated and we are not?”
‘Matt Hancock is missing the point here. The idea should be to get as many people vaccinated as possible – not to worry about the postcodes they are in. They could say to the over-65s in Somerset, “Book yourself in and come today” but they are not doing that.
‘They have spare capacity and they are choosing to close early instead. It’s just shocking and it doesn’t make any sense.’
Taunton Racecourse was one of ten new sites added last month to seven already existing hubs in a bid to get 15 million vaccinated nationwide by February 15.
Early traffic at the racecourse was described as ‘bumper to bumper’ with people travelling from a 45-mile radius to get their first dose.
Yesterday a spokesperson for Somerset’s Covid-19 vaccination programme said they had ‘temporarily limited opening times’ because their goal to vaccinate the four priority groups would be achieved by Sunday.
‘Our large vaccination centres, like the one at Taunton Racecourse, are designed to see between 450 and 900 people a day. As we come close to vaccinating all those in the first four priority groups in Somerset, the bookings at our large vaccination centres have temporarily reduced in line with demand.
‘We have at times therefore temporarily limited opening times at these centres but we remain ready to extend them again as we need to, when vaccinations open to those in the next priority groups identified by the JCVI.
‘We are hugely grateful to all the support that we have had from our volunteers and health and care teams who have been working around the clock to run these services. We are continuously reviewing the planned bookings at all our centres and will adjust services when required, to support larger or smaller numbers of vaccination appointments depending on demand.’