Charities have welcomed an announcement by the UK government that unpaid carers are to be included in the autumn Covid-19 vaccine booster programme.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay announced today that the UK government had accepted a recommendation by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to offer Covid boosters to “people aged 50 and over, residents and staff in care homes for older adults, frontline health and social care workers, unpaid carers, individuals aged five to 49 in clinical risk groups and household contacts of those who are immunosuppressed.”
Mr Barclay continued: “NHS staff and volunteers provided an outstanding service to the public through the biggest and fastest vaccination rollout in England’s history, which saved countless lives and allowed us to live with this virus without restrictions on our freedom.
“Viruses spread more easily in the colder seasons with people socialising inside, so the risk of getting Covid is higher.
“It is absolutely vital the most vulnerable groups receive a booster vaccine to strengthen their immunity against serious disease over winter to protect themselves and reduce pressure on the NHS.”
Responding to the announcement, Chief Executive of Carers UK Helen Walker said: “This is great news that unpaid carers have been included in the autumn COVID-19 booster programme as it’s something that we have raised many times with Government.
“The booster programme has been vital to unpaid carers protecting themselves as well as the people they care for against infection. It’s been a great measure for identifying carers, also making them feel better valued because they are being made a priority group.
“The truth is that the health and social care system would collapse if unpaid carers became ill and were no longer able to care or if they passed the infection on to the person they cared for.
“Carers have been worried sick about bringing infection home since the start of the pandemic and this will really help to protect them and provide greater resilience.
“We should not have had to campaign on this, though. Unpaid carers have been left out of three interim announcements making us really concerned each time about whether or not they would be included, despite the incredibly important role that they have in caring for older, disabled and ill relatives and friends.
“If we’re in this situation again, we want the JCVI and Government to include carers up front and early, giving us peace of mind and recognising unpaid carers’ role properly.”
She added: “Carers UK will do all that we can to encourage carers to identify themselves as carers with GP practices and come forward for their jabs at the right time.
“We look forward to continuing to support the NHS with its roll-out programme for the booster and flu jabs.”
My Barclay added that the flu vaccine would also be offered to vulnerable groups. He said: “The flu virus could also be highly infectious at this time of year, so today I am also announcing that those eligible for a free flu vaccination this year will include everyone aged 50 and over, primary school children and secondary school pupils in years 7, 8 and 9, as well as people in clinical risk groups, unpaid carers and household contacts of those who are immunosuppressed.
“If you or your child are eligible for a Covid or flu vaccine, I urge you to come forward as soon as you are invited by the NHS.”