Britain’s most senior police chief has said she is “baffled” by the government’s decision not to prioritise frontline police officers for Covid vaccines despite her repeated requests to ministers.
The Metropolitan police commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, pointed out that in London almost 150 officers have been spat or coughed at by people who claimed they had Covid.
In a phone-in on LBC, Dick expressed her frustration that frontline officers in the UK were not on the priority list for vaccines.
She said: “In many other countries, police officers and law enforcement colleagues are being prioritised and I want my officers to get the vaccine. I am baffled really.”
Answering a call from the father of a police officer who contracted Covid, Dick revealed she had been lobbying the government for police vaccinations for “many, many weeks”.
She said: “I have had many conversations with the home secretary. She is very supportive on this subject. These are difficult decisions, but I think there is a very strong case for the frontline officers.”
She pointed out that “disgusting” and “awful” incidents of police being coughed and spat at were “quite widespread”.
Dick said: “We’ve had 97 occasions where somebody has either mentioned or threatened Covid, and then coughed. We’ve had 48 [occasions] where they’ve spat. We’ve charged 126 people with that and nearly two-thirds of them have got custodial sentences.”
The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid jab is an mRNA vaccine. Essentially, mRNA is a molecule used by living cells to turn the gene sequences in DNA into the proteins that are the building blocks of all their fundamental structures. A segment of DNA gets copied (“transcribed”) into a piece of mRNA, which in turn gets “read” by the cell’s tools for synthesising proteins.
In the case of an mRNA vaccine, the virus’s mRNA is injected into the muscle, and our own cells then read it and synthesise the viral protein. The immune system reacts to these proteins – which can’t by themselves cause disease – just as if they’d been carried in on the whole virus. This generates a protective response that, studies suggest, lasts for some time.
The two first Covid-19 vaccines to announce phase 3 three trial results were mRNA-based. They were first off the blocks because, as soon as the genetic code of Sars-CoV-2 was known – it was published by the Chinese in January 2020 – companies that had been working on this technology were able to start producing the virus’s mRNA. Making conventional vaccines takes much longer.
Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the Bristol Children’s Vaccine Centre, University of Bristol
Dick said every day officers were also being coughed and spat at by people who may have Covid but did not say so.
She said: “It certainly makes the point that we’re dealing with very unpredictable, sometimes violent, often spitting, shouting, people who are just spraying unwittingly, because they’re very upset.”
She said three members of staff from the Met had died of Covid since the pandemic began, including a community support officer last week.
She said: “This is a critical service, and to keep other people safe, we need to keep the police safe. Frontline officers are in and out of people’s houses, they’re helping people who are sick on the street or collapse behind locked doors, they are dealing with sometimes very aggressive people and to arrest people they have to get up close and personal. They don’t have very long to risk assess all that. They certainly can’t be dressed top to toe in heavy PPE.”
Dick said ministers had expressed “warm words” that in the in second wave of the vaccination programme frontline workers, including police officers, may be given priority for jabs. But she suggested this was too late: “Phase 2 we won’t come to, as I understand, until spring, whatever that means, whereas we will end the first four cohorts for the very vulnerable in the middle of February.”
Under the current vaccination programme, 60-year-olds, including Dick, are due to get the vaccine before frontline officers.
“The frontlines should be getting it before people like me and I’m very clear about that … This is a decision that’s the government has made so far on the basis of the JCVI, who are the experts,” she said.