Rough sleepers to be offered accommodation for Covid jab in race to tackle vaccine hesitancy

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Government announces a £28 million funding boost for councils as part of its Protect and Vaccinate scheme

Rough sleepers to be offered accommodation for Covid jab in race to tackle vaccine hesitancy
A homeless person pushes their belongings past a Back to the Future mural
The homeless population has been especially hard hit by Covid-19, with one in 50 deaths among this group related to coronavirus in 2020 CREDIT: Peter Summers

Rough sleepers will be offered accommodation for getting a vaccine this winter, in a race to tackle pockets of hesitancy across the country.

The Government has announced a £28 million funding boost as part of its Protect and Vaccinate scheme. The extra money will see mobile clinics set up, outreach work in shelters to inform people about the dangers of the virus, and money given to councils to provide safe accommodation.

It comes as the NHS is working around the clock to deliver booster jabs to ward off the threat of the omicron variant and improve vaccination rates.

The Government hopes that offering accommodation post-vaccination will improve uptake, as some rough sleepers are hesitant about side effects when living on the streets.

Prof Jim McManus, the president of the association of public health, welcomed the funding. “It’s important to get people off the streets when they have a vaccine, in case they have the normal flu-like reaction. Trying to keep yourself warm, when your body is having an immune response to a vaccine, and when you’re in the freezing cold, is awful,” he said.

Councils will join with charities to identify those who are sleeping rough, and work with local housing associations or charities and hotels to provide accommodation. Similar initiatives have happened on a local level during the pandemic.

While the UK has one of the highest vaccine uptakes in the world – with more than 85 per cent of adults double jabbed, according to government data – millions are yet to have their full vaccine course.

At the same time, emerging evidence increasingly suggests two doses are not enough to protect against omicron, though a booster shot lifts effectiveness against hospitalisation to around 70 per cent in real-world studies.

The homeless population has been especially hard hit by Covid-19, with one in 50 deaths among this group related to coronavirus in 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics.

However, there is limited data on what percentage of the homeless population have received a vaccine. Charity Homeless Link estimated in August that only one in three rough sleepers were fully vaccinated – a concern given this group often have underlying medical issues and less ability to self-isolate.

Eddie Hughes, the minister for rough sleeping, said: “In the wake of a surge in Covid-19 cases and a new variant, we have an even greater responsibility to protect vulnerable people.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian reported last week that homeless shelters were shutting their doors due to growing fears around social distancing. Housing Justice – the biggest provider of voluntary sector shelters – reported having just 950 beds this year, compared to 2,100 before the pandemic.

Charity Glass Door said it had been forced to close its usual service due to ongoing Covid precautions and the difficulty of being able to adhere to social distancing after the rise of omicron.

 A man walks past a homeless veteran's tent in Tenison Way at Waterloo, London
A man walks past a homeless veteran’s tent in Tenison Way at Waterloo, London CREDIT: Thomas Kryc

Some regions have already ramped up efforts to provide the homeless population with vaccines.

Hertfordshire successfully vaccinated all its rough sleepers earlier in the year, after a campaign working alongside charities to offer accommodation. Prof McManus told The Telegraph that the council, GPs and charities worked together to “physically find every homeless person, feed them, and offer them a vaccine”.

Prof McManus added that the new funding: “Won’t pay for long-term accommodation but it will certainly make a difference. It shows the Government has actually listened.”

Councillor David Renard, the Local Government Association housing spokesperson, said: “People living on the streets are among the most vulnerable in society, with reduced ability to self-isolate safely and are less likely to access healthcare services, with many also having underlying health conditions.

“This funding will help councils build on existing local efforts to reach out to rough sleepers, and those who are at risk of homelessness in their areas, to ensure they can safely and easily receive a vaccination.”

In March this year, Matt Hancock, then Health Secretary, agreed to put homeless people in ‘group six’ of the vaccination rollout, alongside those with underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk from the virus. The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations had said that half of homeless people had, in effect, no access to healthcare and should be made a priority.

The average age of death of a person who is homeless is 47 for a man and 43 for a woman, decades lower than the general population, which stands at 79 and 83 respectively.

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