Should frontline retail and transport staff be next in line for vaccine?
- Credit: Denise Bradley
As the vaccine rollout gathers pace, businesses whose staff are among the most vulnerable to infection are asking where they come on the priority list.
Health and social care workers have, rightly, been among the first to receive the jab alongside the most elderly and vulnerable in our society.
But once the benchmark of all over 50s and all vulnerable people has been reached - the government is facing questions as to who should come next.
The East of England Co-Op has already written to MPs urging for front line retail staff to be made a priority.
Joint chief executive Doug Field said: "As we progress through the next phase of the vaccine rollout, we sincerely hope that government will take the vital step of including essential retail workers on their priority list along with other key groups.
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“Throughout the pandemic, our customers have relied upon us to buy the food they need to feed themselves and their families. This wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible work of our frontline colleagues. They have worked tirelessly under extremely challenging circumstances to provide a safe retail environment for our customers.
“We have invested heavily to comply with the guidelines and keep our stores COVID secure. Despite this, our colleagues remain at greater risk of catching the virus due to the very nature of their customer facing roles.
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“We welcome that our colleagues working on the frontline in funeral services, who on a daily basis are caring for those who have sadly lost their lives to the virus, are already on the priority list. To support our colleagues to receive their vaccine as soon as possible, all our 4,000 frontline colleagues are receiving either time off in-lieu, or full pay, to ensure they do not lose out when they attend their vaccination appointment.”
Taxi firms across Norfolk have also said they would welcome the news that drivers taking people to hospital, doctors appointments, and indeed Covid tests, could be vaccinated as a priority behind the most vulnerable in society.
Paul Richards is the night controller for Millennium Taxis in Dereham Road who said that drivers were having to "choose between keeping their heads above water financially and putting their lives on the line".
He said: "I know it's a real strain on our drivers when they're taking people to hospital appointments, dropping them at school, and knowing they may take the virus home to their families.
"I'm sure our drivers would be keen to have the vaccine as soon as possible, to keep themselves as well as customers as safe as possible. Of course, they're doing everything they can when it comes to sanitising and cleaning down the cars, but it's an added layer of security."
He was echoed by a spokesman for ABC Taxis in Norwich, who said: "We did 13,500 journeys in the past week and a significant proportion of them were hospital and doctors trips, as well as for virus tests. We would welcome any move to get our drivers vaccinated - and some already have been.
"Of course there are a lot more people to be vaccinated before we get to that stage, so it would be good to see an expansion of testing for people like taxi drivers. For example, a lateral flow test maybe once or twice a week would help the government but also businesses be confident in how the virus spreads."
Worryingly some of these issues are compounded by data that BAME communities stand a higher risk of being seriously ill with the virus, as well as being more likely to work in some of the most public-facing roles such as transport and education.
Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South, said: "There's not enough evidence to say for sure whether low uptake was the result of BAME individuals being unwilling to get a jab or the system failing them.
"In the end, to me, it adds up to the same thing. The government needs to get to grips with well documented racial inequalities in health care. These have led to decades of BAME low engagement with and poor access to health services.
"The UK has one of the worst global records for Covid deaths, illness and damage to the economy. It should be science and science alone that guides decisions about which groups get priority for vaccination.
"BAME people have been battered by the pandemic partly because they disproportionately work in public-facing roles. I've seen credible scientific comment which concludes that vaccinating public-facing workers would more effectively reduce transmission of the virus, illness and death than not doing so.
"That'd be the advice irrespective of a person's ethnicity and was the principle behind NHS and care home workers getting the jab first."