Dr Vin Diwakar, NHS London‘ medical director, tonight slammed Britons attempting to bypass the priority list, describing them as ‘morally reprehensible’.
It emerged yesterday that an IT loophole in the booking system allowed young and healthy people to secure appointments ahead of the elderly and vulnerable.
Links to the Swiftqueue website which exploited the system were widely shared on social media and Whatsapp.
Dr Diwakar told a Downing Street press conference: ‘People are being called in priority order so we can vaccinate those most at risk of serious illness first.
‘And that is why I was horrified to hear some unscrupulous people are using links shared with them to try falsely book a vaccination appointment.
‘To seek to do this is denying some of the most vulnerable in our community a life-saving vaccine.
‘Let me be clear about this, it is morally reprehensible to try to jump the queue. And anybody who books to get the vaccine fraudulently will be turned away.’
At least three councils in England and Wales were also caught offering vaccinations to school, nursery and office staff ahead of the over-70s, going against the priority list for the jab.
Dr Vin Diwakar, NHS London’ medical director, tonight slammed Britons attempting to bypass the priority list, describing them as ‘morally reprehensible’
Home Secretary Priti Patel repeated Dr Vin Diwakar’s rebuke of those skipping the vaccine queue as ‘morally reprehensible’.
It came after the senior minister was asked whether the Government was considering bringing in fines for those looking to secure a jab before they are called for one.
She said: ‘With regards to the queue jumping, as you put it, around the vaccine, I completely echo the words of Dr Diwakar.
‘Quite frankly it is morally reprehensible because these individuals are putting the lives of vulnerable people at risk – the most vulnerable who have been prioritised by the Government to receive the vaccine because they are vulnerable in that they are susceptible not only to contracting the virus but could die from this deadly, deadly virus.
‘As I’ve always said, as we say as a Government as well, all our measures are under review.
Britain dishes out a record 366,919 Covid vaccines as NHS figures reveal postcode lottery on rollout
Britain yesterday dished out a record 366,919 coronavirus vaccine doses, putting the Government on track to hit its target of inoculating 13.9million people by mid-February.
The UK’s huge vaccination drive, which has rallied after a slowdown over the weekend, has now given first doses to almost 5million people.
Britain must reach at least 350,000 people every day for the next month to hit the goal of immunising the most vulnerable people in the country by February 15, when Boris Johnson plans to review lockdown rules – although it remains unlikely they will be loosened before March even if that target is achieved.
NHS chiefs today published the most detailed breakdown so far of local vaccination rates, revealing a postcode lottery favouring rural areas. Medics in Cumbria and the North East have handed out 10 times more vaccines than those in Shropshire.
An impressive 10 per cent of the population in Gloucestershire have had a jab already, compared to just 3.6 per cent of East Londoners. Herefordshire and Worcestershire also managed to immunise one in 10 of their residents by January 17.
Coverage appears to be higher in more rural areas and lower in cities, with the lowest vaccination rates in London and the East Midlands.
The 10 areas most advanced in their rollout have managed to immunise 71 per cent of their over-80s already, with Gloucestershire the highest at 85 per cent. For comparison, the worst-performing areas, mostly in London, had managed fewer than half by January 17.
Rural areas tend to have higher average ages among their residents and more elderly people, which may give them access to more vaccine doses to distribute, while inner cities will have to wait until younger people become eligible.
Boris Johnson has warned achieving the February target will be ‘very hard’ but it has emerged today that No10 is only aiming to ‘offer’ the jabs to that number of people and it won’t declare failure if they aren’t all delivered on time. Government sources admit not everyone will take up the invitation, with polls indicating that a fifth of the population might refuse.
In echoes of when the Department of Health posted thousands of tests so it could claim it had done 100,000 in a day, the technicality raises the prospect that the target could be technically hit well before 13.9million doses have been administered – although it’s still possible the jabs will actually be given.
However, MPs warned that ‘under-delivering’ and then claiming to have achieved the goal ‘won’t wash’.
Even if everyone does take it up, scientists say, the country still won’t reach herd immunity strong enough to stamp out the virus completely. Analysis from the University of East Anglia (UEA) found that the efficacy of current vaccines, combined with the emergence of more infectious variants of the virus, mean keeping the R below one without lockdown restrictions could become impossible.
‘But quite frankly right now our world-class, world-leading vaccine roll-out programme is there for the most vulnerable people – we’ve prioritised our cohorts and our groups – and our focus is on getting that vaccine to the most vulnerable to make sure we protect them and obviously protect others in the community as well.’
Yesterday it emerged links to the Swiftqueue website that are meant to allow the over 70s and NHS and care workers to book an appointment were circulating on social media.
People who used them were not asked for proof of eligibility when making appointments.
The Labour MP Toby Perkins was one of those who was able to get an appointment through one of the Swiftqueue links – which he immediately cancelled.
‘The first I heard about it was Monday night when I got a text saying there was a URL link going around that gets you a Covid vaccine and people are getting it who aren’t entitled,’ the Chesterfield MP told the Evening Standard.
‘So I went onto this link and booked on myself and it gave me an appointment as a 50-year-old – it didn’t ask me if I was a key worker. It allowed me to book on without my NHS number and it just gave me an appointment go down tomorrow at 10.10am.’
The Telegraph reported nursery workers have been offered jabs, and the two authorities secured vaccinations for children’s services staff in secondary schools.
But the two Conservative-controlled councils, in a joint statement on Wednesday, said they have since ‘clarified to schools and early years settings… that at this stage, the eligibility for the vaccine will only include staff who provide personal care and support’.
In the joint statement, Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council said: ‘Our top priority is to ensure the vaccine is offered to those who are most vulnerable.
‘In line with JCVI national priorities, this includes residents of care homes, the over-80s and those providing frontline health and social care.
‘By offering to these groups, we are following the national guidelines and Cambridgeshire County Council, Peterborough City Council and the local NHS are working hard to ensure these groups receive their jabs and not a drop of vaccine is wasted.
‘As part of this work, other groups on the national priority list levels three and four are beginning to be invited to come forward for vaccinations.
‘Today (Wednesday), we have clarified to schools and early years settings across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough that at this stage, the eligibility for the vaccine will only include staff who provide personal care and support.
‘But we have also started to collect data from schools and other priority groups to be ready should the national guidelines allow us to provide wider vaccination at a later stage to people in these settings.
‘We will continue to prioritise people for vaccines following JCVI guidelines.’
Meanwhile, office council staff jumped ahead of frontline workers for a coronavirus vaccine – in an email blunder.
The email invite was sent to the council’s health and social care staff to give them priority to book their jabs.
But it was then shared with other county hall staff in Denbighshire Council, based in Ruthin, North Wales.
It allowed staff to book the vaccine even though they were not in the priority groups.Council bosses say they are now carrying out internal checks to make sure the system is not abused.
Anyone who accepts an invite when they are not eligible could now face disciplinary action.
A council spokesman said: ‘Frontline health and social care staff have received an invite from the Covid-19 testing email address to arrange a vaccination in the first wave of vaccines.
‘A small number of these invites were passed to staff who are not eligible yet, although the invite clearly stated it should not be shared.
‘The health board has been provided with a list of eligible frontline health and social care staff from the council and non-eligible staff will not be given the vaccine at this time.
‘We have contacted staff to explain the seriousness of this matter and to inform them again that invites should not be shared.
‘We are also introducing internal checks to ensure the system is monitored and not abused.’
Other areas where the links are alleged to have been used are East London and Nottinghamshire.
The priority list has been decided by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – an independent expert advisory committee.
The top four priority groups are now eligible to get their coronavirus vaccine in England, meaning people who work in health and social care, as well as everyone over the age of 70, care home residents and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable can now be contacted for an appointment.
The top priority groups are the over-80s, care home residents, and NHS and social care staff, and the Government said it will remain the priority to vaccinate them.
A spokesman for the East London NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘People attending appointments at the Westfield Vaccination Centre will be asked for proof that they have personally been invited for a vaccination and belong to one of these priority cohorts, to ensure that no one who is currently ineligible for the vaccine receives it as a result of making a false online declaration.’