“We have taken the decision to combine our efforts because despite everything that we’ve said and done so far, the Government isn’t listening to us and police officers will not be given the protection they need in the form of the coronavirus vaccine.”
These were the words of the chair of Cambridgeshire Police Federation who spoke after the health secretary, Matt Hancock, revealed in a press briefing that frontline police officers and staff will not be included in the first phase of the vaccine roll-out. They will still only receive it according to age.
“There is a lot of anger and frustration about this issue from police officers across England and Wales,” says Liz Groom, “They appreciate the elderly and vulnerable needed to have the jabs first, along with frontline NHS staff and those who are looking after people in care homes.
“But, since they are on the frontline , doing a role where it is not always possible to socially distance, they are putting their health at risk each and every day and also fear bringing the virus back to their families.
“At the very least you would think the Government would make some kind of move towards giving them the protection of the jab especially when you consider how well the vaccination programme is going since you could vaccinate the whole police service in less than a day.”
All 43 branches of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) have now responded to the health secretary’s revelation in an open letter to the Governments in Westminster and Cardiff, in which they say they feel betrayed by their lack of action to protect officers from exposure to the virus.
It says: “The health secretary could not even offer a guarantee beyond the first phase, only that frontline officers will be ‘considered’ for vaccination in the next phase. This is not only unacceptable to our members, it is also a dereliction of both Governments’ duties. It shows that warm words and platitudes mean very little.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel has publicly called for frontline policing officers and staff to receive some priority in the vaccination programme but it is the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that makes the final decision.
The Federation letter quotes the JCVI guidance, however, which is that ‘frontline health and social care workers at high risk of acquiring infection, at high individual risk of developing serious disease, or at risk of transmitting infection to multiple vulnerable persons or other staff in a healthcare environment, are considered of higher priority for vaccination than those at lower risk’.
The letter goes on: “The risks presented to our members show that this guidance applies to them. The nature of policing means our members are not always able to mitigate the risk of contracting and spreading this deadly virus. They often have to get up close and personal in many situations, which means the risk is ever present.
“One in three officers have reported being threatened by somebody claiming to have Covid. The level of incidents of people weaponising the virus – by coughing or spitting at them – has increased considerably during the pandemic. On behalf of Government, police officers are putting their lives on the line every day and run a very real risk of becoming infected and exposing colleagues, family members as well as the public.
“Thanks to the success and speed of the vaccination programme we know it would take less than a day to vaccinate the entire police service in England and Wales if the political will is there to do it.”
In another open letter to the Welsh Government last week, also calling for officers to be prioritised for the vaccine, the four Federations of Wales said it was aware other workers had been immunised despite not falling into vulnerable groups or being on the frontline.
Liz added: “We have repeatedly called for police officers to be vaccinated and given clear reason why. They have not only been on the frontline of the UK’s response to this pandemic, they have come under direct threat from individuals deliberately coughing or spitting at them.
“The fact that Governments are refusing to acknowledge that threat is incredulous. They will now feel the full force of every one of the country’s Police Federations as we will continue together to push for our members to receive the protection they should have and which, quite frankly, they deserve.
“It’s not about jumping the queue; it’s about doing the right thing and protecting those who protect society.”