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Early years sector will not be prioritised in vaccine roll out

By Rachel Lawlerhand sanitiser coronavirus nurseries vaccine

Early years providers, and other educators, will not be prioritised in the second phase of the Covid-19 vaccine roll out, the government has confirmed.

The Join Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (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.

Age-based approach
Instead, the JCVI is option for an “age-based approach”, rolling out the vaccine based on age groups after priority groups 1-9 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, starting with everyone aged 40-49 years old.

Professor Wei Shan Lim, chair for the JCVI, commented: “The evidence is clear 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.”

Sector campaigns
This decision comes after months of campaigning from the education sector, including the Alliance’s joint call alongside other leading organisations and unions.

Research undertaken by the 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-19 since 1 December 2020.

Meanwhile, recent Ofsted statistics revealed reports of positive cases in early years settings doubled over a 7-day period in January.

When speaking to the health and social care committee in January, health secretary Matt Hancock previously said that nursery staff, along with teachers and other key workers, “have a good case” for being prioritised after the Phase 1 group.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson told the Education Select Committee in January that he was fighting "tooth and nail" to get teachers and school staff prioritised for vaccines. He said: "It is the thing I have conversations about every single day."

Confusion over access
Early years staff previously had hopes of a last-minute inclusion in the social care category of Phase 1 dashed, when some were told, incorrectly, 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.

"Overlooked again"
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “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.”

Find out more
Covid-19 vaccinations and the early years sector - an Alliance FAQ
Calls for education sector to be prioritised in next phase of the roll out