Teachers and other frontline key workers could begin receiving coronavirus vaccinations once the most vulnerable groups have had jabs, MPs have been told.
Boris Johnson on Monday set out plans to vaccinate 13m people in the four top priority groups for the jab by mid-February, including all elderly care home residents and their carers, over 70s, frontline health workers and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
In a briefing with MPs on Tuesday, England’s deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries suggested teachers and other frontline key workers could be included in the next stage of vaccinations, which will cover the next five priority groups including over 50s and those with risky underlying health conditions.
Any decision to inoculate teachers and key workers that early in the vaccination programme would mark a significant acceleration.
The decision rests with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which has already published the nine priority groups for the first phase of the vaccine rollout.
Last month, JCVI chair Wei Shin Lim suggested key workers would need to wait until all nine of those groups have been vaccinated until they receive their jabs in the second phase.
But according to one MP on the call, Harries said: “When the first four groups are completed, then frontline key workers would be vaccinated and this would include consideration of teachers.”
Harries made the comments under pressure from several Conservative and Labour MPs, including Tories Robert Halfon, Martin Vickers and Simon Hoare, who were pushing for teachers to be vaccinated. At this point she suggested they could be “considered” as frontline workers, like NHS staff.
Harries also stressed that teachers with underlying conditions would be vaccinated in phase one, as set out by the JCVI list.
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson denied the claims, saying: “DCMO made clear teachers with specific underlying health conditions would receive the vaccine as part of the relevant JCVI prioritisation group.
“The JCVI will consider all available evidence for phase 2 recommendations of the vaccination programme.”
Here are the JCVI’s nine priority groups for phase one of the vaccine rollout, as of December 30:
1. Elderly care home residents and their carers.
2. All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers.
3. All those 75 years of age and over.
4. All those 70 years of age and over and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
5. All those 65 years of age and over.
6. Everyone aged between 16 and 64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality.
7. All those 60 years of age and over.
8. All those 55 years of age and over.
9. All those 50 years of age and over.
Harries was speaking alongside schools minister Nick Gibb to brief MPs on the decision to close primary and secondary schools in England as part of the seven-week lockdown, amid teachers’ safety fears.
The pair repeatedly stressed that the decision on vaccine priority rests with the JCVI.
But one MP on the call said Harries’ comments raised “a lot of unanswered questions”.
“It’s clear as mud,” they added.
Earlier, health secretary Matt Hancock had also acknowledged the “strong case” for vaccinating teachers amid concerns that school pupils could be vectors for the disease, according to two MPs.
“This is something I have raised too and put forward but this is not a decision for ministers,” Gibb added later.