Prioritising teachers for vaccines would 'slow down rollout', health chief warns

Nurse Maggie Clark prepares to administer a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to a patient at a vaccination centre set up at the Fiveways Islamic Centre and Mosque in Nottingham, central England, on February 22, 2021. - Coronavirus vaccines do not contain pork or make you infertile: a celebrity advertising pitch is striving to counter a worrying lag among certain ethnic minorities affecting Britain's otherwise impressive inoculation campaign. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Nurse Maggie Clark prepares to administer a dose of a COVID vaccine in Nottingham. A JCVI chief has warned that prioritising all teachers would slow down the rollout. (Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

Prioritising all teachers for coronavirus jabs would slow down the UK’s successful rollout of the programme, a vaccine leader has warned.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – which set out the top nine priority groups of people for receiving a vaccine in the ongoing first phase of the rollout – also said “picking out” teachers who aren’t in these groups would expose other at-risk people to harm.

Only teachers aged over 50, or who have underlying health conditions, are currently eligible for a jab under the first phase.

Prof Harnden’s warning comes four weeks after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer went against the JCVI recommendation by demanding that all teachers were vaccinated this month. Starmer has since been criticised for the call.

Watch: Gavin Williamson on why teachers don't have vaccine priority

Prof Harnden, appearing at the House of Commons science and technology committee on Wednesday, was once again asked about teacher vaccines ahead of the reopening of all schools in England in 12 days’ time.

However, he said “there are other occupational groups which are usually more at risk than teachers” and pointed out that people in the top nine priority groups – over-50s, care home residents, clinically extremely vulnerable people, over-16s with underlying health conditions, and frontline health and social care workers – have accounted for 99% of hospital deaths during the pandemic.

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He went on: “I would say that one of the key reasons that this programme has been so successful is because it has been simple, it’s been deliverable, and it has been rolled out very quickly and people understand it.

“If you start picking out certain groups it will make it more complicated, and the risk of doing that is slowing the programme down… and it may be that some people will be exposed to the virus and actually suffer harm that wouldn’t have been otherwise.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson also reiterated on Wednesday that people in the top nine priority groups are "best to vaccinate first".

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It comes after England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said on Monday that teaching is not a high-risk profession relative to others such as nursing.

Meanwhile, Prof Harnden also told the committee on Wednesday that the JCVI has decided the priority list for phase two of the vaccination programme, and this is “with ministers at the moment”.