Leader of Preston Council Matthew Brown is calling on the government to prioritise the Covid-19 vaccinations to the communities worse affected by the virus to prevent us from facing tighter local restrictions over summer.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises UK health departments on immunisation, is currently issuing the vaccine in order of age, as experts say it is the fastest way to cut deaths from the virus.
But Coun. Brown claims that it is only the risk to those infected with the virus that is being considered as the rollout continues and not the potential risk of catching it in the first place, which greatly varies depending on rates in local authority areas.
Following suit from Dominic Harrison, Director of Public Health for Blackburn with Darwen, Coun. Brown is urging the government to consider areas worst-hit by the growing cases of the virus and accelerate the rollout of the vaccine in local authority areas with higher risks of transmission to "secure equal life chances across the UK."
He said: "The infection rate in Preston is remaining stubbornly high when compared to the rest of Lancashire. If we don't prioritise this vaccination for the communities that are worse affected then we could be potentially facing local lockdown restrictions in summer, whereas other areas will have them lifted.
"Everyone needs a vaccine, but we need to change the supply of them to areas that are suffering more, such as Preston. Of course, the figures for Covid within the older generations are decreasing, but younger people are still a risk as they can spread it to more vulnerable people.
"If the infection rate in Preston doesn't fall substantially we really will be in a mess. Potentially, the rate will spread even further, especially with the younger communities. We already know the disproportionate effect of the virus on deprived communities.
"As council leader, I have to say something about this because I do not want anyone to be put at risk. As a matter of urgency, we need to prioritise vaccines for Preston because we do not want any more people to die from this virus, but that risk is higher if this is done wrong.
"Potentially this could leave Preston facing restrictions again in summer and we do not want to find ourselves back there again."
The news follows 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”.
The rate of infection in Preston, as of yesterday, March 1, remains higher than the rest of the county, at 193.5 per 100,000 people, but has dropped below 200 for the first time since November.
This is significantly less than the rate of 236.8 cases for the seven days to February 18.
But worries over substantially higher rates in the city raise concerns that it could be plunged into another localised lockdown, similar to those seen last July when hotspots with higher infection rates were placed under harsher restrictions in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.
Coun. Brown added that an unstaggered approach to reopening the classrooms, set for March 8 across England, could drive up rates yet again - particularly in areas with higher levels of deprivation.
He said: "We should be bringing youngest children back to schools first in a staggered approach and then monitoring the impact on infections in the local communities.
"What's currently happening is the government are wanting all schools and children back on March 8. If our infection rates stay where they are, this rate could just continue to spread further.
"If there are young people who are asymptomatic going back into schools that are then going back to large households, then that is going to be an issue.
"Preston has done really well in rebuilding its economy because we have faced so many restrictions over the last year, but we are disproportionately affected by employment rates because we faced restrictions when other areas were in lower tiers.
"Preston needs to be put at the front of the queue quite simply because we are more at risk. The reality is if you are in an area with a lower rate, you are at a much smaller risk compared with areas with a huge working-class community and a denser population and this needs to be reflected in the vaccination process."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the plans for lockdown lifting last Monday, with four separate stages set to end on June 21, when all limits on social mixing could be lifted.
And as part of the vaccination rollout, NHS England has been issuing the jab in descending age order, starting with those residing and working in care homes.
Lancashire residents aged 60 and above are now the next cohort of people being offered their first jab and are being encouraged to contact the NHS if they haven't received an appointment letter.
Currently, as of February 25, 20,391 people had been given their first dose in Preston.