Alliance slams decision to ignore early years workers as Phase 2 rollout to continue by age group

The Early Years Alliance has condemned a move by government not to offer jabs to frontline early years workers as part of Phase 2 of the UK’s vaccine rollout. Following advice from the JCVI, the Health Secretary today announced that to ensure the pace of the rollout was maintained, vaccinations would continue to be offered by age group, starting with those aged 40-49. 

Research undertaken by the Early Years Alliance in partnership with independent sector analysts Ceeda last month revealed that one in 10 nursery and pre-school staff, and one in 12 childminders, had suffered from Covid since 1 December. Meanwhile, recent Ofsted statistics revealed reports of positive cases in early years settings doubled over a 7-day period in January. 

Last week, the Early Years Alliance in conjunction with other leading education organisations, children’s services organisations and unions, called on government to ensure workers in early years settings, schools and colleges were prioritised during Phase 2 of the Covid vaccination programme, amid reports the JCVI would recommend continuing the vaccination rollout by age – as has now been announced. 

Early years staff previously had hopes of a last-minute inclusion in the social care category of Phase 1 dashed, when some were incorrectly told, including by the 119 NHS Covid Helpline, that they could book appointments, following the introduction of self-referral for social care workers. 

However, JCVI advice that those working with “children under 16 who do not have underlying health conditions leading to greater risk of disease or mortality and children who have no underlying health conditions” were not eligible remained unchanged, and early years workers who had booked appointments were asked to cancel them.

Responding to today’s announcement Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: 

“It is incomprehensible that yet again, early years workers have been overlooked by the government and told to wait for the vaccine. This is in spite of a spike in Covid case reports within the sector and the fact that early years providers have been open to all children throughout this latest lockdown. 

"Nursery and pre-school workers cannot choose to work from home, while childminders welcome children from multiple families into their own homes. The children in their care need cuddles, help with mealtimes, nappy changes and so much more that cannot be offered from a distance. That means they risk their own and their families’ health on a daily basis, to ensure parents have access to childcare and that every child gets the best possible early education.  

"When the vaccine rollout was first announced, early years providers, along with other educators, were asked to wait patiently for Phase 2, when frontline workers, with no option to stay at home, would be offered this vital protection.  

"These hopes have been sadly crushed by what feels a lazy move on the part of government. It shows rhetoric about essential workers, is just that, rhetoric. If there was a genuine will to protect our educators, rather than just chasing top-line vaccine figures, I have no doubt it could be done just as quickly and efficiently as every other phase of the rollout to date."