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LABOUR is urging Matt Hancock to make the vaccination of key workers and black and minority ethnic (BAME) people a priority as they have “disproportionate” rates of coronavirus infection.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called on his Tory counterpart to act in response to “alarming” findings revealed ahead of the Commons session.
Imperial College London’s React survey shows that there are “disproportionate infection rates among key workers” and “among BME communities.”
Labour has demanded that the Tory government provides daily figures on the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines to BAME communities.
The NHS currently provides daily updates on vaccine uptake. Its weekly reports state the numbers of adults over 80 who have had a jab, but no breakdown is given for other priority groups or by ethnicity.
Mr Ashworth’s call coincided with deputy party leader Angela Rayner hosting a virtual meeting with community leaders in the West Midlands to discuss what the government can do to ensure good uptake of the vaccine.
Vaccination Minister Nadhim Zahawi expressed concern that the take-up may be lower in BAME communities and is working with mayors and councils to get through to “hard-to-reach groups.”
A document released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) identified the barriers to vaccine uptake as a perception of risk, low confidence in the vaccine and lack of endorsement by trusted providers and community leaders.
Mr Ashworth’s call was made during an urgent question in the Commons about Wednesday’s Covid death toll, which at 1,820 was the highest one-day figure since the start of the pandemic.
Describing the number as “truly horrific,” the shadow health secretary asked Mr Hancock whether BAME communities and key workers will be next in line when the nine existing priority groups have been vaccinated.
The workers most exposed to the virus are teachers, police officers, firefighters, transport workers and supermarket staff, he said.
Mr Hancock did not answer his question. But in response to a similar query on BAME vaccine uptake by Labour MP Sarah Owens, he said that Mr Zahawi was “doing a huge amount of work on it” and that it was “ongoing.”
Mr Ashworth also urged the government to go “further and faster” with vaccination due to virus mutations, such as the South African B1351 variant, which has been shown to pose a risk of reinfection.
Early indications show, replied Mr Hancock, that the variant was “dealt with by the vaccine just as much as the old variant” and that ministers were “vigilant to new variants that we’re seeing overseas.”
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