Why are vulnerable working-age adults like me at the back of the vaccine queue?

The last few days have been filled with the exciting news of one — at least — vaccine being made available in as little as a few weeks. 

After almost nine months in the grips of a pandemic, it is the news that the UK population has been desperately waiting to hear. 

Yet, while the idea is being welcomed with open arms by most, some of us remain disappointed. The reality is that I, as a working-age adult in the extremely vulnerable group, am unlikely to be getting the vaccine any time soon. 

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This group includes individuals who, for any number of health reasons, are more at risk of serious complications or death should they catch Covid. As a group, we have largely been shielding since March. We have been encouraged to work from home or give up our jobs altogether, avoid shops and social situations, and only go outside for essential reasons. We are, arguably, among those in greatest need of a vaccine, which could allow us to leave our homes and return to our jobs for the first time in nearly nine months.

Yet, having looked at the government plans to roll out the vaccine, we have been ranked at level six out of 11 — a position which leaves over 12 million others, including healthy over-65s, in front of us in the queue.   

A quick look at the priority system shows that group one is occupied by those who live and work in care home environments, which makes sense as this is where there is the highest risk of infections spreading and doing the most damage. Group two is for those over the age of 80 and all health and social care workers, which is also practical. 

Groups three, four and five, though, may come as more of a surprise: those aged between 65 and 80, whether diagnosed with any complicating health factors or not. 

A cohort of over nine million, this 15-year age bracket alone would more than exhaust the expected number of vaccines potentially available this year — 10 million doses, to treat just five million individuals. That would leave others of working age — including with cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, chronic lung conditions, or people like me who have received organ transplants — forced to continue to shield until, at the earliest, the spring. 

So why have they been pushed so far down the vaccine queue?

The ranking seems to reinforce the incorrect rhetoric that “vulnerable” means “old”. This view, which has frustratingly been encouraged by the government throughout this pandemic, omits thousands of young people and working-age adults officially placed within the “vulnerable” group. 

They are people who were often leading productive and arguably very “normal” lives before Covid forced them to retreat to their houses, people who in some cases have been compelled to rely on government support for the first time in their lives as they are not able to to go out to work, and who are frustrated by the expectation that they are simply happy to shield indefinitely, regardless of the cost to them financially, physically and emotionally. 

The plan, based on the data of who has been severely impacted or killed by Covid-19 so far, seems to fail to take into account that, as a group, our presence in these numbers is low precisely because we have done what has been asked of us. We have shielded, often at the expense of our own jobs and any form of social life, and now we are essentially being punished for our ability to comply.

We are angry and confused. While of course we in no way want to undervalue protecting our elderly population, we want to understand how this ranking system has been created, and why we are not considered a priority. The decision-making process was never going to please everyone, but I imagine many healthy 65-year-olds would be shocked to find that they get preferential treatment over working-age adults with acute medical conditions.

At the very least, we deserve justification — and an answer to why yet again it is assumed that we will just stay home, despite the costs we have already paid, and patiently wait our turn. 

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Main image credit: Getty

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