Bus drivers’ vaccine ‘priority list’ snub claim

Fresh concern for transport workers after tragic first-wave deaths

Friday, 11th December 2020 — By Calum Fraser and Helen Chapman

James Rossi

James Rossi: ‘We are going to be more and more exposed to the virus’

BUS drivers say they have been snubbed again over protection from the coronavirus after not being included on the government’s vaccination “priority list”.

They warned that transport workers would still be facing conditions that make them ­vulnerable for months, before being eligible for the new jabs. The first Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccinations were given to patients on Tuesday in a moment health secretary Matt Hancock dubbed “V-day”.

But for many the triumphalism rang hollow as Covid-19 cases started to rise in London again, and doubts were cast over the fairness of the list drawn up by government officials over who should receive the vaccines first.

James Rossi, who drives the number 340 bus, said: “In light of the fact that we deal with between 300 to 400 people a day, and things are especially busy now as people are doing their Christmas shopping, we have to be on that priority list for the vaccine. We are going to be more and more exposed to the virus.”

Bus driver Emeka Nyack-Ihenacho died during the first wave of the pandemic

Those aged over 80, care home residents and NHS staff are set to be the first to receive the jab. Two drivers from the ­Holloway bus garage, Emeka Nyack-Ihenacho and Win Tin Soe, died during the first wave of the pandemic when London Mayor Sadiq Khan and outsourced bus operators faced criticism for leaving drivers “exposed” in “filthy” and crowded vehicles.

Mr Rossi was backed by the Holloway depot’s Unite the Union representative Craig Johnson. The father-of-three, who drives the 271, said: “We haven’t heard anything yet [about driver vaccinations].

“We are on the frontline, so it would be nice to be told something. Questions are floating around. Drivers are asking management. But nothing has come back.

“We figured we should get the vaccine because we are on the frontline. It feels like we have been thrown to the side again. Of course, the physically vulnerable should be getting the vaccine first, but what about those who are vulnerable because of their work?”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan

The priority list is predominantly based on age, with under-50s who don’t have serious underlying health conditions set to be the last to receive the jab, regardless of the risks their occupation may pose.

Mr Rossi warned that many of his colleagues are on low wages, living in poor quality housing and also from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

A Public Health England report earlier this year found people of BAME backgrounds have suffered disproportionately with the virus.

Mr Johnson, a driver for 22 years and of Afro-American descent, said: “I’ve got a wife and three kids and everyone is worrying. The kids ask me, ‘Is it safe to go out?’”

Last week Britain became the first western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine.

Regulators approved the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, which requires two doses 21 days apart, after it was found to be 95 per cent effective in preventing the virus. Questions remain, however, about whether immunity lasts for more than six months.

A spokeswoman for the Mayor of London said: “Sadiq [Khan] has been clear that he wants to be actively involved in discussions with the government to ensure the needs of all London’s communities are met, and will be writing to the Health Secretary and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation asking for public-facing workers, including frontline transport staff, to be part of the prioritisation process.”

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said: “The JCVI’s advice on Covid-19 vaccine prioritisation was developed with the aim of preventing as many deaths as possible. As the single greatest risk of death from Covid-19 is older age, prioritisation is primarily based on age.
“It is estimated that vaccinating everyone in the priority groups would prevent 99 per cent of deaths, including those associated with occupational exposure to infection.”

A Metroline spokesman said: “We do not under­estimate the challenging task of the government in managing the distribution of vaccines throughout the UK but maintain that our drivers should be given priority access to the vaccine along with other key workers.”

• Mr Johnson’s name was altered at his request.

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