Early years providers and Covid vaccinations: an Alliance FAQ

Over recent days, there has been a lot of confusion around whether or not early years providers are now eligible for Covid-19 vaccination under the umbrella of ‘social care’.

The below FAQ aims to clear up some of the confusion on the official current government position on the issue of vaccinations.

When are early years providers going to receive vaccinations?

The decision on which groups are to be prioritised for vaccinations is made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), an independent expert advisory committee that advises the government.

The first phase of vaccinations has already been confirmed to include nine groups and is expected to be completed by May 2020. These groups are:

  1. Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults
  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 clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (not including pregnant women and those under 16 years of age)
  5. All those 65 years of age and over
  6. Adults aged 16 to 65 years in an at-risk group 
  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

These groups have been chosen primarily because the JCVI has identified that the people within them are the most at risk of serious illness or death if they contract Covid-19. In addition, frontline health and social care workers have been included in Phase 1 because those working in those sectors are not only at increased risk contracting Covid-19, but also of “transmitting that infection to susceptible and vulnerable patients in health and social care settings”. 

While it is not yet fully clear how much the various vaccines prevent the transmission of Covid-19 as well as serious illness, guidance from the JCVI states: “Even a small reduction in transmission arising from vaccination would add to the benefits of vaccinating this population, by reducing transmission from health and social care workers to multiple vulnerable patients and other staff members.” 

Following advice from the JCVI, the government has confirmed that after groups 1-9 in phase 1, prioritisation will continue to be based on age, starting with those aged 40-49. The JCVI has stated that targeting people by occupation “would be more complex to deliver” and warned that this approach “may slow down” the UK’s vaccination roll-out. 

Professor Wei Shen Lim, COVID-19 Chair for JCVI, said that “the risk of hospitalisation and death increases with age. The vaccination programme is a huge success and continuing the age-based rollout will provide the greatest benefit in the shortest time, including to those in occupations at a higher risk of exposure.” 

After groups 1 to 9 in Phase 1, the JCVI has recommended that the vaccine be offered to all adults in the UK in the following order: 

  • All those aged between 40 and 49 
  • All those aged between 30 and 39 
  • All those aged between 18 and 29

The government has previously said that it expects all adults to receive a first dose of coronavirus vaccine by the end of July 2021.

The Alliance has had meetings with government in which we raised our concerns at the continued high risk to frontline early years workers while waiting for their age group to be called. The Alliance alongside other leading education 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.

The National Careers Service government guidance lists nursery staff and childminders under the title of ‘social care’. Does this mean early years providers are now classed as social care?

No. The National Careers Service web page on social care is simply a list of careers that someone interested in social care may want to consider. This includes a very wide range of job roles, including art therapist, careers adviser and forensic psychologist. The inclusion of early years roles on the list is not new.

The National Careers Service itself has said: “The National Careers Service does not serve to present a strict classification of professional groupings and should be not used to prioritise staff for Covid-19 vaccines."

The Department for Health and Social Care has confirmed to qualify for a vaccine as a social care worker, you need to currently be providing face-to-face care or support to children or adults who are clinically extremely vulnerable to Covid-19. As it stands, clinically extremely vulnerable children are not able to attend early years settings.

NHS guidance adds that: "In most cases people who are eligible, those who provide face to face care or support children or adults who are extremely vulnerable, should be contacted directly by their employer and been given a letter to say they are eligible."

I called the NHS Covid helpline and was told that early years providers are now eligible for vaccines. If this isn’t true, why did they say this?

The confusion seems to have stemmed from the fact that on 11 February 2021, a change was made to the vaccination booking system to allow social care workers to ‘self-refer’ for vaccinations using either the online booking system or by calling the NHS Covid helpline on 119. This includes social workers working with children who have underlying health conditions.

It appears that some 119 operators have mistakenly assumed or been wrongly informed that this group includes those working in the early years, and so have booked vaccination appointments on this basis. Providers have also been able to book appointments online by stating that they work in social care on the online sign-up form. However, we are aware that many providers who have booked appointments are being turned away on the day when it is established that they do not work in social care. 

The Department for Education has confirmed that, as it stands, those working in the early years are not eligible for vaccinations on the basis of occupation.

I’ve heard that some early years practitioners have been able to get their vaccinations. If my booking has already been confirmed, should I attend my appointment?

We know that some individuals working in the early years have already received vaccinations – however, this seems to be a complete postcode lottery, and dependent on different levels of awareness of current government and JCVI guidance on vaccination priority groups among vaccination centre staff.

The government has now stated that: "If you wrongly booked an appointment as you don’t fit the above criteria you will be turned away at the vaccination service, so please cancel your booking so that someone in the eligible cohort doesn’t miss out on an appointment."

I've already received my vaccination, will I be prevented from getting my second jab?

No, the DfE has said that: "As these individuals came via National Booking Service (NBS) they should already have their second appointment booked, these are usually booked at the same time as the first through the NBS."