Homeless people will be given priority to receive a coronavirus vaccine as they are more likely to have underlying health conditions, the government has said.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said he had accepted advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) for people who are homeless or sleeping rough to be offered jabs alongside those in priority group 6.
“Our vaccination rollout is moving at an incredible speed, with two in every five adults now having received at least one vaccine,” he said. “It’s so important that nobody gets left behind in this national effort.
“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 JCVI said homeless people should be offered the vaccine without the need for an NHS number.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, JCVI Covid-19 chairman, 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.”
The change in policy was welcomed by homeless charities who have campaigned for priority access for the vaccine to be given to people experiencing homelessness.
Jon Sparkes, Crisis chief executive said: “We welcome the secretary of state’s acceptance and commitment to this advice from JCVI. As it makes clear, local areas can prioritise people who are homeless for vaccination and must make appropriate considerations in their vaccine rollout plans.
“The UK government must now ensure that, working with homelessness services, all local areas have the resources they need to make this happen.
“But make no mistake, the vaccine will not make homelessness safe. Whether it is living on the streets, or in cars and sheds, or constantly moving between friends’ sofas, homelessness is extremely damaging to both your physical and mental health. We desperately need a plan to ensure everyone has a safe and secure home.”
Homeless people have been among those who have struggled to get a coronavirus jab even when they’re entitled to one.
Charities and campaigners have argued barriers to accessing healthcare are based on the fact that the easiest route for people to be called for a vaccine is through their GP.
But Groundswell, a charity that works to tackle homelessness and inequality, has previously told HuffPost UK that homeless people can struggle to register with a GP practice – even though they shouldn’t need a fixed address or proof of ID.
“We have been concerned from the outset of this pandemic that people suffering from homelessness already suffer from grave health inequalities and have a lower life expectancy,” Groundswell campaigner Jenny McAteer said.
“They either live on the streets or in temporary accommodation and are at increased transmission risk and are often at an increased risk of death as they have long-term health conditions which have often not been picked up.”
Homeless Link, the membership charity for frontline homelessness agencies, had also urged for homeless people to be treated as a priority for coronavirus vaccination “as a matter of urgency”.
Some homeless people are also reluctant to access health services due to the discrimination and treatment they have experienced in the past.
“Many people who are homeless should already be in a priority group as they are clinically vulnerable,” said McAteer. “But the problem is, they are not going to be picked up if they are not registered with a GP as the system does not know where they are.
“Homeless people are much more likely to transmit the virus to each other and end up in hospital services with Covid-19 and die of the virus so it makes absolute sense to make this group a priority for the vaccine.”