'Prioritise Preston for vaccine rollout', says city leader

The next phases of the vaccine rollout should recognise “the reality” that places like Preston have been harder hit by the pandemic than many other parts of the country.

Tuesday, 16th February 2021, 5:11 pm

That was the message from city council leader Matthew Brown as he backed growing calls for a more targeted vaccination programme which acknowledges current and historical Covid infection rates.

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Preston has found itself back in the top ten areas with the highest case rates in England in recent days.

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Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown

Although there has been a general decline in infections in the city since 20th January, the speed of the fall was gradual enough to push Preston up to becoming the ninth worst-affected part of the country in the week to 8th February, with a case rate of 308.8 per 100,000 people.

The stubbornness of the virus’s spread in Preston also meant that it was one of the last areas of the country to start showing a sustained fall in cases after the current lockdown was imposed – and it actually recorded the sharpest increase in England over one rolling seven-day period as recently as mid-January.

Those recent indicators, coupled with the fact that the city was regularly registering some of the highest infection rates nationwide as the pandemic began to deteriorate last September, has convinced Cllr Brown that Preston should be prioritised for vaccine distribution.

“I have long been concerned about the disproportionate effect of Covid on our minority communities, as well as the poorest in our city. The two are often linked, because there tends to be more deprivation in areas where you have a higher BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] population.

“People on low incomes are two-and-a-half times more likely to be affected by Covid and certain parts of the BAME community even more so.

“We need to prioritise based around the reality that if you’re well off and live in an area where it’s quite spacious, the virus is not going to spread as much – whereas if you’ve got a lot of terraced houses, it is going to spread.

“We need to have a universal approach, but we need to put more resources into areas where people are affected the most,” said Cllr Brown.

He added that a case could be made for prioritising Lancashire as a whole and said he had raised the issue with the area’s local resilience forum, which is leading the county’s Covid response.

Several of the county’s council areas have regularly appeared in the top ten places of infection, including Blackburn with Darwen, whose director of public health, Dominic Harrison, has also called for vaccine prioritisation based on risk. He said that the average North West resident is three times more likely to have been infected with Covid-19 than someone in the South West.

Before the first vaccines were distributed, Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi, public health boss at Lancashire County Council, told the Lancashire Post last November that the area should be prioritised for the jabs.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) set a series of strict criteria for the vaccine rollout, largely centred on age and underlying health risk. The government says that its target to offer a first dose to all in the top four of the nine JCVI priority groups by today (15th February) was met – meaning the over 70s, frontline health workers, care home staff and residents and the extremely clinically vulnerable have all had the opportunity for a jab.

The over 65s, those of any age with certain underlying health conditions and then populations within declining five-year age ranges down to 50 are all next in line, with a target to have offered a first dose to all of them by May. No prioritisation order has been drawn up beyond those groups for the remainder of the population.

There was controversy last month, when it was reported that the number of weekly doses being made available to the North West region would be cut by a third from mid-February – dropping from around 300,000 to 200,000.

The Health Service Journal said that the decision had been taken to allow other parts of the country that were not as far advanced in offering first doses to the top four priority groups a chance to “catch up”.

Although now largely an academic argument after that target was hit both locally and nationally, Lancashire County Council has laid down a marker for the next stages of the rollout after members last week requested that the authority’s chief executive to write to the health secretary, Matt Hancock, “seeking clarity” over whether supplies had indeed been cut.

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