The NHS is expected to start its rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Tuesday after it was approved for UK use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
NHS frontline staff had apparently been scheduled to be first in line to receive the jab but will now reportedly be moved down so care home staff, residents, hospital inpatients and outpatients aged over 80 can be immunised first.
Professor Azra Ghani, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said giving the jab first to the “most vulnerable”, such as the oldest in society, was a way of reducing severe illness and hospitalisation.
She added that how the priority ranking works further down the line will depend on the stage of the epidemic.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about her modelling, Prof Ghani said: “Once we go below the age of 50, then the risk of severe outcomes really does drop off quite dramatically.
“Then, I think, we need to think about what stage the epidemic is in, what the supply looks like and what the priorities are.
“So, risk groups may be one of those but if the epidemic has started to decline – we may have moved into the summer period – it may be that we want to protect key industries.”
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the leader of the British Medical Association, said he supported care homes being at the front of the queue for vaccines, but said it means NHS staff will be left at higher risk of getting infected.
He added: “Doctors and other healthcare staff will recognise the need to vaccinate care home residents and older patients first, but will likely be frustrated at the government’s inconsistent messaging changing from yesterday to today.
“In the first wave, we saw far too many health and social care workers become incredibly sick with Covid – with many tragically dying – and therefore those working on the frontline need to be given the opportunity to get protected early.”
The UK’s death toll from Covid-19 has now passed 60,000 – less than a month after it passed the 50,000 milestone.
The Government said on Thursday that a further 414 people had died with 28 days of testing positive for the virus.
The official figure for total deaths now stands at 60,113.
But the true figure could be significantly higher.