The Government will prioritise homeless people in the rollout of coronavirus vaccines following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he had accepted advice from the JCVI and the move would “save more lives among those most at risk in society”.
The JCVI said people who were homeless or sleeping rough were likely to have underlying health conditions and should be offered jabs alongside those in priority group six.
It said there was a “unique opportunity” to offer the vaccine to the thousands of people housed in emergency accommodation.
They should also be offered the vaccine without the need for an NHS number or GP registration, it added.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, JCVI Covid-19 chairman, said: “The JCVI’s advice on Covid-19 vaccine prioritisation was developed with the aim of preventing as many deaths as possible.
“People experiencing homelessness are likely to have health conditions that put them at higher risk of death from Covid-19.
“This advice will help us to protect more people who are at greater risk, ensuring that fewer people become seriously ill or die from the virus.”
The JCVI said the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine “will be easier to deploy to this group of people” and local decisions could be made on shortening the interval between doses if it was unlikely a person would return for a second dose.
Mr Hancock said: “Our vaccination rollout is moving at an incredible speed, with two in every five adults now having received at least one vaccine.
“It’s so important that nobody gets left behind in this national effort.
“We know there are heightened risks for those who sleep rough and today I have accepted the advice of the independent experts at the JCVI to prioritise those experiencing rough-sleeping or homelessness for vaccination alongside priority group six.”
Rosanna O’Connor, acting director for health improvement at Public Health England, added: “People who are homeless or who sleep rough face reduced access to healthcare, and experience some of the highest rates of poor health outcomes and undiagnosed health issues.
“We welcome this decision of JCVI and are pleased to have supported the committee with the evidence that helped make this decision, which will protect those who are most vulnerable and may be at increased risk of severe illness or death from Covid-19.”
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, welcomed the move and said it is vital homeless people can access the vaccine “as quickly as possible”.
He continued: “The UK Government must now ensure that, working with homelessness services, all local areas have the resources they need to make this happen.
“But make no mistake, the vaccine will not make homelessness safe.
“Whether it is living on the streets, or in cars and sheds, or constantly moving between friends’ sofas, homelessness is extremely damaging to both your physical and mental health.
“We desperately need a plan to ensure everyone has a safe and secure home.”