Unite the Union, TSSA and USDAW have made a joint call for frontline workers to be prioritised in the rollout of the newly announced Covid-19 vaccine.
The first wave of vaccinations is currently set to go to health and social care workers and the elderly, but the unions warned that key workers in other sectors are also at high risk of both catching and spreading the disease.
Indeed, analysis by the Office for National Statistics found that high risk occupations include taxi drivers, security guards, bus drivers and retail staff.
“It is absolutely correct that social care staff and health workers receive the vaccine at an early stage so they are protected and are not at risk of inadvertently transmitting the virus,” Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary of Unite, told the Guardian.
“However, there are many other key workers who have suffered greatly during the pandemic and they should also receive appropriate prioritisation in receiving the vaccine.”
TSSA General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, pointed to a recent outbreak at Manchester Piccadilly train station as an example of the disruption to services, and danger to both workers and the public, of allowing the disease to spread among frontline workers.
Clarifying that frontline workers should be given the vaccine “after the vulnerable, and healthcare and social care workers”, Cortes emphasised that “transport workers are on the frontline of the pandemic”.
“They are key to keeping the country moving and should be given priority when it comes to vaccination,” he was quoted in the Guardian as saying.
Zubaida Haque, who is a member of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, suggested the unions’ call is backed by scientific evidence.
“One of the key reason BAME communities have been more vulnerable to infection and severity of this disease is because we’ve got a high proportion of BAME people among key workers … such as delivery drivers, taxi drivers, public transport workers, professional cleaners, as well as the doctors and the nurses,” she said.
Gail Cartmail concluded that whatever happens with the vaccine, the government must not allow it to become another means by socioeconomic inequalities are widened.
“What is absolutely imperative is that there is a clear and transparent list of priority groups and we do not see a free for all or queue jumping by the wealthy,” she said.