BGS statement on vaccination prioritisation for healthcare professionals working with older people

12 January 2021

The British Geriatrics Society has welcomed news in recent weeks of COVID-19 vaccinations being approved for use in the UK. Older people have borne the brunt of this terrible pandemic, with 88% of the deaths in the UK being in the over-65 age group. We are pleased therefore to see older people, and health and social care staff who work at the frontline of patient care, being prioritised as vaccinations are rolled out.

Increasing age is the single biggest factor affecting likelihood of dying from the virus, and older people are more likely than others to suffer severe complications from COVID. Many older people will have been ‘shielding’ and restricted in their social interactions over the last ten months. It is absolutely right that they, and those who come into close contact with them providing essential health and social care services, are given early protection against the virus.

Vaccinating frontline health and social care professionals is also important as they are at considerable risk of getting the virus and potentially passing it on in the course of their daily work caring for patients. At present, 46,000 hospital staff are off work with the virus or self-isolating, which is of course worrying for them but also adds to the enormous pressure that the remaining workforce is under.

Provision of vaccinations for healthcare professionals is being determined locally and this has led to uneven access. Our members tell us that in some areas healthcare professionals, especially those working in an acute hospital setting, have started to receive their first dose of the COVID vaccine. But this has not been the case across the board, with those working in community and primary healthcare settings in particular struggling to access vaccinations. These healthcare professionals are working to keep older people with frailty and other long-term conditions out of hospital and are often supporting patients with COVID in a non-hospital setting. It is vital that all healthcare professionals caring for older people in all settings, including social care and care homes, are protected from COVID as soon as possible.

Dr Jennifer Burns, BGS President and Consultant Geriatrician at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, said:

BGS members are caring for those who are at greatest risk of COVID and are at increased risk themselves as a result. As we move through this phase of the pandemic, it is vital that healthcare professionals who work with older people are prioritised for a vaccine as soon as possible. We know that our members are exhausted from the pandemic so far but continue to demonstrate their commitment to delivering high-quality care for their older patients. The Government must provide the healthcare professionals working with those at highest risk of developing COVID with the added protection of a vaccination. We hope this will minimise the onward transmission of the virus, reduce the risk of COVID complications and deaths among the vulnerable older population, and protect the vital NHS and social care workforce on which we all depend."