Covid & The Vaccine Program: Can We Prioritise our Police Officers?

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Police arrest man with sword in Sussex
Police arrest man with sword in Sussex

Successful Vaccination Roll Out in UK  

‘Surprisingly impressive’ is a good way to describe the vaccine development and roll out in England so far. This is thanks to the dedication of the scientists, the Department of Health and Social Care, doctors and medical staff across the country and a small army of volunteers who have been working tirelessly, on behalf of their communities.

Today over 16 million citizens have been vaccinated so far in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The UK is at the top of the fortunate few when it comes to delivering a national vaccine program to fight the spread of Covid-19 when compared to dozens of other countries around the world. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford AstraZeneca products have been successful in generating immunity within our senior age groups already, BBC radio 4 reported yesterday.

Police Officers Have Been Exposed to Covid-19 For One Year 

Unfortunately in the UK we have also seen one of the worst sets of figures globally when looking at the number of people who have sadly died with coronavirus. Despite some optimistic news about a drop in case numbers and deaths this week, the virus is still very much ‘out there in the community’ as one nurse put it simply. The new variants have added to the complications with lifting the current strict lockdown, as more tests need to be done to fully understand when our most vulnerable residents will be safe to return to a more normal life.

During the pandemic our frontline workers and emergency services have risked their lives in order to continue to assist and protect the folk in their area.

PC Tom Van Der Wee said on Twitter on the 10th of February that “Just had news from a colleague that another policing team is having to self isolate because they have dealt with someone who has had #Covid.” (1)

“The officers may be ‘healthy’ but they are now potentially incubating the virus whilst living amongst possible vulnerable family members.” (1)

This week the BBC reported that Zoe Wakefield, chair of the Hampshire Police Federation said her colleagues were “being spat at, bitten and contracting the virus” whilst on their work shifts. Wakefield said the government was “blatantly ignoring” the need for officers to receive jabs.” (2)

On the 9th of February The Telegraph confirmed that Matt Hancock the Health Secretary announced that “officers would not be given priority” for the life saving inoculation, despite “weeks of lobbying by police leaders.” (3)

This week it is very positive news that the supply of the new pharmaceutical packs are remaining good. Those aged over 65 are being called to receive their first vaccinations as the NHS distributes the precious vaccines to health centres in every county across the land.

Current Plan is Vaccinate Police in Phase 2

Yesterday Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told viewers on Good Morning Britain that “the second phase of the roll-out will focus on professions, with those who are most likely to come into contact with Covid-19 given priority.” (4)

Most NHS frontline staff, care home residents and workers, and those aged over 70 have now been vaccinated in England. The over 60’s and those with certain health conditions and adult carers as well as younger adults in care homes are also due to receive their jabs this month.

All the over 50’s in England are scheduled to be invited to attend their appointments for either the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford AstraZeneca or the newly approved Moderna vaccine (which is due sometime this spring) from early in March. This means the rest of the adult population is expected to be offered a Covid-19 vaccination this summer and “by the Autumn” ministers have promised. (5)

Police Constantly Provide Emergency Health & Social Care Support

This means that many police officers who are under 50 years old and without other health complications will be left exposed until much later this year. In the meantime they deal with members of the public with drug, addiction and extreme mental health issues on a daily basis. Underinvestment in social services over many years of austerity means it is widely accepted that there is a crisis in mental health provision in the UK. Men, women and young people are not always able to receive the support they need to maintain their mental health, at the exact time they develop new urgent problems.

Our local ‘bobbies on the beat’ are often the first on the scene to deal with Brits of all ages with severe and complex psychological problems that affect their behaviour. This puts police constables at great risk of either inadvertently or deliberately contracting an unusually large dose of coronavirus, which can cause severe illness in adults of all ages.

Criminals intent on getting away from or harming policemen and women who are responding to crimes that have been committed don’t care about giving our blue line heroes a dose of Covid-19. Those breaking the law can be aggressive towards authority and completely disregard the fact they may be putting the health of police team members and also their families in danger.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised that priority should be given to “frontline health and social care workers” in the first phase of the vaccine program. There is an argument for stating that our police officers fall under this categorisation because they pick up the people with a wide variety of acute problems that fall through the normal health and social care system.

Police in all parts of the country work closely with hospitals and other organisations in social care to help folk to get the assistance they need in their times of crisis. This is especially true as domestic violence and neighbourhood disputes are on the rise. This is because of the pressures of lockdown and other extra stresses that households everywhere are dealing with, caused by changes in work and home life due the pandemic. (6)

Time To Thank, Value And Reward Our Brave Police Officers Properly

We are all grateful for the efficient and timely distribution of the vaccine program which will help to create a good level of immunity throughout the population. Last year the NHS were given a pay rise but the police service were not in a move that the Police Federation of England and Wales said “was nothing short of a disgrace” This year the force is on track to receive a 2.5% pay rise but this does little to make up for many years of budget cuts. We now have an opportunity to show our police professionals that we understand and value their incredible contribution to society during these exceptionally demanding times. (7)

We know that the elderly are particularly adversely affected by Covid-19 and it is great we have protected nearly everybody over 70 in England now. Many would argue that offering the vaccine should be a priority for Matt Hancock and his team. Another benefit of quickly vaccinating officers is reduced time off and sickness leave because our emergency service personnel are self isolating or recovering from illness. When one person in the force’ team tests positive for Covid-19 all members of the team have to self isolate for a number of days.

Many voters feel that giving the vaccine to our police men and women as soon as possible is essential, even if this is in front of other ordinary citizens ‘in the queue’. This is because many residents under 70 even if they have a mild disability or health complication can easily just stay at home with support from their families and out of any harm’s way for a few more weeks.

Being in control of a safe environment and maintaining appropriate social distancing is a luxury that our brave police officers and their families are unable to control. For this reason it makes sense for the government to review and if necessary alter the JCVI guidelines accordingly. This is to ensure that our security forces are prioritised correctly and protected by the wonderful new vaccines as they strive every day to keep our communities safe.

 

(1) PC Tom Van Der Wee, Twitter, 17 February 2021 PC Tom Van Der Wee on Twitter

(2) ‘Covid: Police ‘furious’ for not being given vaccine priority, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, BBC News, 12 February 2021 Covid: Police ‘furious’ for not being given vaccine priority, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, BBC News

(3) ‘Police accuse government of betrayal over vaccine snub.” Martin Evans, Crime Correspondent, The Telegraph, 9 February 2021 ‘Police accuse government of betrayal over vaccine snub.” Martin Evans, Crime Correspondent, The Telegraph, 9 February 2021

(4) ‘Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi rules out vaccine passports for our domestic economy’ Good Morning Britain, 16 February 2021 ‘Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi rules out vaccine passports for our domestic economy’ Good Morning Britain

(5) ‘Covid: When will I get the vaccine?’ Philippa Roxby, BBC News, 15 February 2021 ‘Covid: When will I get the vaccine?’ Philippa Roxby, BBC News, 15 February 2021

(6) ‘UK Covid-19 vaccines delivery plan’ Department of Health and Social Care, 11 January 2021 ‘UK Covid-19 vaccines delivery plan’ Department of Health and Social Care, 11 January 2021

(7) ‘Pay freeze is ‘nothing short of a disgrace’ says Federation, Police Professional, 25 November 2020 ‘Pay freeze is ‘nothing short of a disgrace’ says Federation, Police Professional, 25 November 2020