UK could target schoolchildren and office staff in next phase of vaccine programme

Government to focus on groups more likely to spread Covid-19

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The British government could begin vaccinating people more likely to spread coronavirus rather than targeting older, more vulnerable groups.

Teachers, police officers and other frontline workers may be given priority if evidence shows the measures could stop the spread of Covid-19 in the general population.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises UK health departments on immunisation, lists “first responders, the military, those involved in the justice system, teachers, transport workers and public servants essential to the pandemic response” as those who should be inoculated.

Public Health England is also examining whether to include schoolchildren and office workers who regularly use public transport in Phase 2 of the vaccine drive, which is expected to begin in April.'

A PHE strategy document says the study will "inform policy decisions around whether to prioritise vaccination of those with worse outcomes or those who transmit more", according to the i newspaper.

Those claims were backed up by Priti Patel who said there was "a lot of work taking place in government right now" on extended vaccinations to frontline staff.

"It's both police, fire and other front-line workers. And the health secretary and I are working to absolutely try and make that happen," she told BBC Radio 4.

Boris Johnson also confirmed he hoped to extend vaccinations to other key workers, such as teachers and police officers, in the next phase after being asked in parliament.

"Of course we want to see those groups vaccinated as soon as possible", he told prime minister's question time.

Currently, frontline health workers and extremely clinically vulnerable groups, such as the over 80s, are first in line for treatment.

The extension of the scheme is still being considered by Public Health England and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, but the ultimate decision on strategy will rest with the prime minister and the country's devolved administrations.


Germany's health minister on Wednesday said delivery of the vaccine was being hampered because of delivery delays by Pfizer.

"We can only vaccinate with that which has been delivered," Jens Spahn said.

Pfizer informed the EU that it would temporarily reduce its deliveries of a Covid-19 vaccine to member states because of construction work at its plant in the Belgian town of Puurs.


Italy’s virus chief said the country is pressing ahead with plans to take legal action against Pfizer over the hold-up.

Domenico Arcuri said he had secured unanimous backing from Italy’s regional governors to take civil or criminal action.

“It was unanimously decided that such action will be taken in the coming days”, Mr Arcuri said. “The health care of Italian citizens isn’t negotiable.”


Two senior doctors at hospitals in Paris expressed concern that France's pandemic could escalate in the coming weeks and months.

Karine Lacombe, head of infectious diseases at Saint Antoine hospital in Paris, and Martin Hirsch, director general of the Paris hospitals system, warned of significant strain on healthcare infrastructure.

"We know this variant spreads much more quickly and, above all, it is more infectious. So, yes, we think that it will change the dynamic of the pandemic in the weeks to come," Ms Lacombe told BFM TV.


In the UK, more than four million people have now received at least one dose of the jab, including more than half of those over 80.

The government hopes to vaccinate about 15 million high-priority people across the country by February 15, and the entire adult population by the autumn.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04: A social distancing sign hangs on a primary school gate in the Borough of Lewisham on January 04, 2021 in London, England. Primary schools across London and southeast England will remain closed to most pupils until January 18th, and secondary schools in England will stagger their return in the coming weeks. On Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson encouraged people to send their children to school if they are open. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
A social distancing sign hangs on a primary school gate in London, England. Getty

Boris Johnson said the country's vaccine programme was on track to meet its targets, but that it would be very difficult due to supply constraints.
"I can confirm that we are on track to deliver our pledge, though it is very hard, I must stress ... it is very hard because of constraints on supply," he said.

It comes as it was revealed that some areas, including Sandwich in Kent, have not received a single vial of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines, leading to concerns the vaccine programme is slowing down.

National Health Service data revealed that fewer than one in 20 people have been vaccinated in London, a ratio much lower than in the north of the country.

Meanwhile, some areas with a plentiful supply of vaccines are offering vaccinations to non-teaching school staff, which is against Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advice.

Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council this week secured vaccinations for secondary school staff, while some nursery workers have already been inoculated, according to The Telegraph.

Vaccines are now being more widely offered in areas where most over 80s have received their first of two doses, according to vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi.

The medical director for the state-run NHS in England, Stephen Powis, said the expansion would target an additional five million people.

"We are now able to expand the vaccination programme beyond those top two priority groups – that's the care home residents, care home staff, the hospital staff and the over 80s – down to the over 70s," he said.

Britain on Tuesday registered 1,610 fatalities from coronavirus, a record high over 24 hours since the pandemic began in 2020, but the number of new cases fell.

The UK's Covid-19 death tally now stands at 91,470, with 33,355 new cases reported over the past day, taking the total number of infections to nearly 3.5 million. The number of new cases over the past week fell by about 22 per cent.

There have been calls for a public inquiry from some doctors and bereaved families into the handling of the crisis, but Mr Johnson has resisted this.

"Every single death is deeply tragic," Home Secretary Priti Patel told LBC, a London-based radio station, on Tuesday, when asked why the death toll was so high. "There's no one factor as to why we have such a horrendous and tragic death rate."

"I don't think this is the time to talk about mismanagement," Ms Patel said, when asked by the BBC if the government had mismanaged the crisis.