Spare Covid-19 vaccines go to West Yorkshire police and firefighters amid calls for priority status

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Spare doses of Covid-19 vaccine are being offered to police officers and firefighters who are playing "Russian roulette" every time they respond to an emergency call.

While paramedics are listed alongside other health workers within the top four priority groups due to get their first jab by mid-February, frontline staff in other blue light services have not been afforded the same status.

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Martyn Bairstow, secretary for the Fire Brigades Union in West Yorkshire, said: "We're out there every day. Because of the nature of the job, we don't know if the people in the crash or the house fire that we come into contact with have Covid. It's such a Russian roulette.

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Craig Grandison, vice chairman of West Yorkshire Police Federation.Craig Grandison, vice chairman of West Yorkshire Police Federation.
Craig Grandison, vice chairman of West Yorkshire Police Federation.

"What brought it home to use I think is one of the paramedics we came across on a lot of jobs, he was 53 and he died. This was a fit bloke who we worked with and was well respected by firefighters, and he died. That was a big shock."

At present, people aged under 50 who do not have any underlying health conditions are not covered within the list of nine priority groups drawn up by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

The only professional groups listed are frontline health and social care workers, and people who work in care homes.

Like firefighters, police officers have continued to respond to emergency calls that could bring them into close contact with people who have Covid-19.

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Deputy Chief Fire Officer Dave Walton. Picture: West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue ServiceDeputy Chief Fire Officer Dave Walton. Picture: West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service
Deputy Chief Fire Officer Dave Walton. Picture: West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service

Craig Grandison, vice chairman of West Yorkshire Police Federation, said colleagues were happy that clinically extremely vulnerable and elderly people were being prioritised but frontline officers should be added to the list of priority groups.

"You can't arrest someone from 2m away," he said. "A lot of the stuff we have to deal with, you have to do it at close quarters.

"If you get sent to an assault or domestic incident, even if you're not arresting someone, you might be having to tend to someone with first aid, you might be having to reassure a vulnerable person."

Mr Grandison said officers were also involved in policing protests by people opposed to Covid restrictions and those who believe conspiracy theories surrounding coronavirus.

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He said: "They don't believe it, don't understand it, don't want to. We've got the same with anti-vaxxers and anti-mask wearers who will come to you face-to-face, it can be within centimetres."

Home Secretary Priti Patel said last week that she was working with Health Secretary Matt Hancock to get frontline emergency services workers moved up the queue.

The JCVI has also said it will consider factors like exposure risk and occupation in the rollout's next phase.

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In the meantime, local vaccination teams are making spare jabs available to key workers at short notice each day if people in priority groups have failed to turn up to their appointments or there are doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines in a batch taken out of cold storage that would otherwise have to be thrown away.

It means more than 500 West Yorkshire Police officers had been vaccinated by last week, with around 100 of the 900 frontline firefighters at West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service also having had a jab.

Mr Bairstow said access to those spare jabs was very much a postcode lottery, with local stations getting notified whenever there was a chance to send firefighters along.

"People are desperate for the vaccine," he said. "Members in West Yorkshire would want to get access to it."

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Mr Grandison said there is typically just an hours' notice to get to a vaccination centre, adding: "We will move heaven and earth to get officers up there, to get a needle in their arm and get the first dose."

The calls for emergency workers to be vaccinated as soon as possible are not just coming from the frontline, but from senior leadership too.

West Yorkshire's Deputy Chief Fire Officer Dave Walton said: “In common with many other critical worker cohorts we think that it is essential that our staff are vaccinated at the earliest opportunity - especially those involved in public facing service delivery."

Noting ministerial comments about considering key workers as part of the next phase of vaccine deployment, he said: "We think it is vital that our staff are part of that group."

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It comes as the Yorkshire Evening Post continues its A Shot in the Arm campaign focused on the national vaccination programme.

Run alongside sister titles across JPIMedia, it urges Prime Minister Boris Johnson to deploy the country’s network of 11,000 pharmacies to ensure that every citizen is only a short walk away from a vaccination centre.

Our campaign also requests further reassurance for local communities from the Government and more easy-to-access information on the vaccine programme and its progress.

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