A Cabinet minister has suggested more of the most vulnerable members of the public could die if teachers are moved up the vaccination priority list.
Labour is calling for teachers to receive the jab before schools return, but after those in the four most vulnerable groups have been vaccinated, which is anticipated by mid-February.
However, this appeared to be ruled out by International Development Secretary Liz Truss, who said that this could leave other vulnerable groups at risk.
Asked if teachers should be moved up the priority list, she told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “The issue is that for every person you vaccinate who isn’t in the most vulnerable group, that’s somebody in the most vulnerable group who isn’t getting their vaccine and who is more likely to die in the next few weeks and months.
“I just don’t think that’s right. That’s the decision made by the independent committee that we are going to vaccinate first the over-70s and those in the most vulnerable group, and then the over-50s.”
Under the current vaccine delivery plan, those who top the priority list are people who live and work in care homes, followed by people over the age of 80 and frontline health and social care workers, including NHS staff.
Next on the list are people over the age of 75, and the fourth group are people aged over 70 and those classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.
Labour has suggested that once those in the first four categories have been vaccinated, the February half-term should be used for teachers and all school staff to receive the jab.
Former prime minister Tony Blair said there was a “very strong case” for teachers to be vaccinated before schools are reopened to all students in England, which the Government has earmarked for March 8.
Meanwhile, Labour’s Rachel Reeves suggested frontline workers such as bus drivers or police officers should get greater priority for vaccination because they are more at risk of contracting coronavirus.
The shadow Cabinet Office minister told Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “We know that some people, because of the work they do, are more exposed to the virus.”
She said Labour is urging the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to look at whether “those people who are most exposed to the virus can get access to it at a bit of an earlier stage”.
Government data up to January 29 shows that of the 8,859,372 jabs given in the UK so far, 8,378,940 were first doses – a rise of 487,756 on the previous day’s figures.
Professor Anthony Harnden, JCVI deputy chair, said he was “confident” of the UK’s vaccine supply following fears it could be interrupted by the EU’s export controls and demands for British-manufactured jabs.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We’re progressing extremely well in the number of vaccines in this country, we’ve had 8.3 million first doses so far.
“These vaccines aren’t easy to manufacture, it’s a complicated process involving a lot of batch testing and supply chains, there are bound to be some bumps along the road.
“I’m quite confident the Vaccine Taskforce has ordered so many millions of doses of different vaccines that we can keep the supply going.”
On the dosing regime, he said current advice is that if supply issues make it difficult to have two doses of the same vaccine, it is better to have a second dose of a different vaccine rather than no dose at all.
Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 strategic response director at Public Health England (PHE), said experts were looking at developing studies on receiving the two doses from different vaccines.
“In some other infections, we can see that is often an effective strategy, because it challenges the immune system in slightly different ways,” she told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“That hasn’t been studied for this virus or for these vaccines yet, but we will have answers over the course of the year no doubt.”
Meanwhile, Dr Hopkins said it was “reassuring news” that the Janssen and Novavax vaccines have been found to be effective against the variant identified in South Africa.
She told The Andrew Marr Show: “The Janssen vaccine and the Novavax suggest that it was at least 60% (effective) against the South African variant, so I think that is reassuring news.”
Dr Hopkins said she expected all of the vaccines to have similar levels of effectiveness against variants like the South African one.
She added: “I think it’s hard to imagine how the different vaccines won’t have similar levels of effectiveness, I think they would have at least 50%, maybe even more.
“We clearly will need to study all of them in terms of looking at how they respond to the population in South Africa, where I know there are a number of studies going on at the moment.”