Groups representing key workers press for priority vaccinations

Trade union calls for retail workers to be given the highest level of access possible

Margaret Keenan (90) is lauded by staff as she returns to her ward after becoming the first person in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine at University Hospital Coventry. Photograph: PA

Margaret Keenan (90) is lauded by staff as she returns to her ward after becoming the first person in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine at University Hospital Coventry. Photograph: PA

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Groups representing key workers are to press for their inclusion in priority categories for vaccination once the State begins to roll out its Covid-19 immunisation programme.

On Tuesday, Cabinet approved 15 different cohorts for the sequence of vaccine roll-out, with healthcare workers, nursing home residents, older people and those at risk of severe disease to be given access first.

The Department of Health said “key workers”, sixth on the list of categories, must provide a service essential to the vaccine programme. Those living or working in crowded accommodation where isolation and social distancing is difficult are ninth, while key workers who cannot avoid a high risk of exposure are 10th and “other workers in occupations important to the functioning of society” are 13th.

Vaccinations are expected to be rolled out in January. The death of one further Covid-19 patient was reported on Tuesday, bringing the pandemic total to 2,097. A further 215 confirmed cases of the virus were reported, taking the total number of cases to 74,682.

The department said the vaccination priority list was drawn up on an ethical basis, with the goals of fairness, reducing harm and protecting the vulnerable.

While the groups acknowledged priority access for healthcare workers and the vulnerable was appropriate, they said their members should also be considered for inclusion in high categories.

‘Workplace vectors’

Greg Ennis, a Siptu official who represents meat plant workers, said they should be vaccinated as “key workers” in the sixth tier because they face “unprecedented workplace vectors for the transmission of Covid-19”.

Fórsa, the State’s largest public sector union, said it would press for State employees such as local authority staff, community sector workers and some civil servants to be included as key workers who cannot avoid a high risk of exposure.

Mandate trade union general secretary Gerry Light said retail workers should be given the highest level of access possible. “If we define them as essential workers, let’s follow that up by doing everything we can to give them access to the vaccine on a priority basis.”

PDForra (Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association) said ships crews cannot socially distance, while the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco) said all personnel should be in this category and those engaged in swabbing should be included with healthcare workers.

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