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People experiencing homelessness already face extreme health inequalities – they must be prioritised for the coronavirus vaccine

Chris Hicks, Senior Policy Officer

The Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed the dangerous health risks of being without a safe and secure home. But quick action from national and local government right at the start of the outbreak not only saved lives but provided emergency accommodation to thousands of people sleeping rough or stuck in overcrowded and shared accommodation, where self-isolation and following public health guidelines was impossible. This incredible effort also relieved pressure on the NHS at a critical time. In the first wave of the pandemic, 266 deaths were avoided among people experiencing homelessness, as well as 21,092 infections, 1,164 hospital admissions and 338 admissions to Intensive Care Units. This demonstrates what can be done when there is political will.

We must now take this new opportunity, to build on these efforts by continuing to protect people who are homeless from the virus by prioritising them for the vaccine.

We know from working with thousands of people every year that people who are homeless are much more prone to certain conditions, such as respiratory conditions and heart disease, that increase their risk of serious illness if they catch the virus. What’s more, people who are homeless, like people in care homes, are more likely to reside in spaces with large groups of people, where there are higher risks of outbreaks, places such as hostels and night shelters.

Increased risk

Earlier this month, the Westminster Government wrote to councils asking them to redouble their efforts to help everyone sleeping on the streets into emergency accommodation, and to ensure people sleeping rough are registered with a GP so they can get the vaccine. This week, the Government stated that people sleeping rough who are “clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable” should “receive their vaccination in the coming weeks”.

The importance of this effort cannot be overstated; over a third of people experiencing the worst forms of homelessness are likely to be clinically vulnerable to Covid-19 and more than one in ten extremely vulnerable. Connecting people who are homeless to a GP will make a big difference, as the lack of a fixed address or photo ID often prevents people who are homeless from being able to register. But it’s not just people who are rough sleeping that are at risk. People experiencing more hidden forms of homelessness such as those in hostels and hotels must also be included in the Government’s plans.

Priority access

Crisis is calling on the Westminster Government to ensure that people experiencing all forms of homelessness are among the groups who will receive priority access to the vaccine in line with guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO). The guidance states that after healthcare workers and older people have been vaccinated, people from marginalised groups such as people experiencing homelessness, should be next.

We’ve already seen in some local areas, such as Oldham and Liverpool, councils have made the welcome decision to vaccinate everyone who is homeless. This needs to be rolled out across the country.

Vaccine Delivery Plan

The Government’s ‘Covid-19 Vaccine Delivery Plan’ notes that people who are homeless will get the vaccine mainly through their GP and mobile delivery, where the vaccine is taken directly to people who are homeless in hostels, hotels, and night shelters. The Government must now ensure local areas develop effective plans to make sure these routes do reach people who are homeless.

Throughout the pandemic, the Westminster Government has gone some way to protecting people experiencing homelessness from the public health emergency. Now they need to ensure that people who are homeless have access to the vaccine. Otherwise, we will leave some of the most marginalised in our communities exposed to continued risk.

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