Smokers in US state added to COVID vaccine priority group as Joe Biden calls for teachers to get jab

·3-min read
Smokers have been added to the COVID vaccine priority list in North Caroline. (Getty/stock photo)
Smokers have been added to the COVID vaccine priority list in North Caroline. (Getty/stock photo)

A US state has added smokers to the priority list of people who should be given the COVID vaccine.

North Carolina will offer the jab to anyone who has smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime from 24 March.

Smokers have been added to the Group 4 priority list, which includes anyone aged between 16 and 64 with one or more high-risk medical conditions for severe disease from COVID.

Smokers are not included in the UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) top nine priority list for vaccines.

However, the sixth group on the JCVI list is anyone aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality – which could be a result of smoking.

Yahoo News UK has contacted the charity Action on Smoking and Health for a comment.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper speaks during a press briefing on the COVID-19 virus and vaccination efforts on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP)
North Carolina governor Roy Cooper speaks during a press briefing on COVID-19 and vaccination efforts. (AP)

In the US, Group 4 also includes people living in close group settings and essential workers who aren't in Group 3 – which is made up of workers including teachers, school staff and those in healthcare.

President Joe Biden has said teachers across the US should be given priority for the vaccine so schools can open quicker.

He told a town hall event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: “I think that we should be vaccinating teachers. We should move them up in the hierarchy as well.”

Watch: Biden pledges vaccine for every adult by end of May

The decision of who to prioritise for vaccines in the US rests with individual states, while the federal government can only make recommendations.

In the UK there has been some debate on whether teachers should be given the vaccine, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer previously calling for them to be given the jab.

After schools across England were closed in January, Starmer said teachers should be vaccinated during the February half-term so that they could reopen.

Speaking several weeks before Boris Johnson announced that schools would reopen on 8 March, Starmer said the half-term date was a “fantastic opportunity” to give teachers the jab.

He added: “Everybody agrees that reopening our schools should be a national priority. But that requires a plan, and the PM hasn’t got a plan.

“So as a first step, does he agree with me that once the first four categories and the most vulnerable have been vaccinated by mid-February, he should bring forward the vaccination of key workers and use the window of the February half-term to vaccinate all teachers and all school staff?”

However, the government is running the vaccine rollout bases on the priority list set out by the JCVI, which predominantly prioritises people by age and whether they have underlying health conditions.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a televised press conference at 10 Downing Street in London, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Johnson has announced a gradual easing of one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns, saying children will return to class and people will be able to meet a friend for coffee in a park in two weeks’ time. But people longing for a haircut, a restaurant meal or a pint in a pub have almost two months to wait, and people won’t be able to hug loved ones that they don’t live with until May at the earliest. (Leon Neal/Pool Photo via AP)
Boris Johnson refused to prioritise teachers for COVID vaccination. (AP)

The prime minister has refused to change course, insisting that only teachers who sit in the top nine priority groups would be given the vaccine.

Vaccinations began with residents in care homes and their carers, before the jab was offered to those aged 80 and over, with the age range decreasing by five years after each group is vaccinated.

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In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made recommendations but it is up to individual states how they prioritise residents – meaning the nationwide rollout is at a greater risk of being uneven.

Biden has previously urged states to prioritise all those aged over 65, following a similar recommendation made by the previous administration.

In England, parents of schoolchildren have been offered lateral flow tests, which give results in 30 minutes, to help prevent potential COVID outbreaks once schools go back on 8 March.

Watch: How England will leave lockdown