Governments accused of dereliction of duty over officer jabs

9 February 2021 

Just days after the four Police Federation branches in Wales sent an open letter to the Welsh First Minister calling for frontline police officers to be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccination, all 43 Federation branches in England and Wales have published an open letter condemning the Governments in Cardiff and Westminster.

It comes as a direct response to an announcement yesterday by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, that frontline police officers will not be prioritised in the current vaccination roll-out but will only be considered for prioritisation after groups one to nine in the current programme which means they will be called to be vaccinated according to their age. 

The latest letter, which is signed by all branch chairs and the national Federation chair John Apter, says police officers feel let down by the Governments’ steadfast refusal to prioritise the police.

Gareth Jones, chair of Dyfed Powys Police Federation, said: “It is disappointing and frustrating that police officers are being treated with such contempt when they have all been on the frontline of the response to this pandemic for almost a year now.

“They put themselves and their families at risk every day and also face the immediate danger of some individuals who are weaponising the virus. I’m not sure what else we can say or do to get Government to listen to us and protect those who are protecting the general public.”

The open letter states: “The health secretary could not even offer a guarantee beyond the first phase, only that frontline officers will be ‘considered’ for vaccination in the next phase.

“This is not only unacceptable to our members, it is also a dereliction of both Governments’ duties. It shows that warm words and platitudes mean very little.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel has publicly called for frontline policing officers and staff to receive some priority in the vaccination programme but it is the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that makes the final decision.

The Police Federation of England and Wales letter quotes the JCVI guidance, however, which is that ‘frontline health and social care workers at high risk of acquiring infection, at high individual risk of developing serious disease, or at risk of transmitting infection to multiple vulnerable persons or other staff in a healthcare environment, are considered of higher priority for vaccination than those at lower risk’.

The letter goes on: “The risks presented to our members show that this guidance applies to them. The nature of policing means our members are not always able to mitigate the risk of contracting and spreading this deadly virus. They often have to get up close and personal in many situations, which means the risk is ever present.

“One in three officers have reported being threatened by somebody claiming to have Covid. The level of incidents of people weaponising the virus – by coughing or spitting at them – has increased considerably during the pandemic. On behalf of Government, police officers are putting their lives on the line every day and run a very real risk of becoming infected and exposing colleagues, family members as well as the public.

“Thanks to the success and speed of the vaccination programme we know it would take less than a day to vaccinate the entire police service in England and Wales if the political will is there to do it.”

In their letter to Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, the Welsh Federation branches said they felt he had reneged on his promise to protect officers, stating: “Across all corners of Wales, we have countless examples of police officers who, disgustingly, have been spat at and coughed over by people who claim to have Covid-19. This, of course, has health implications and puts our hard-working policing teams at further risk. No other key workers face such vile circumstances in the execution of their duties.

“Yet, when it comes to offering some protection to policing in the form of the Covid vaccination, the police service seems to be seen as the bottom of the pile, the inconvenience, the not worthy. At no point during this pandemic has any recognition being given to the risks frontline police officers face while protecting the public.”

Gareth added: “It’s not about jumping the queue; it’s about doing the right thing and protecting those who protect society. Governments haven’t listened to us so we have no choice but to continue to campaign for that.”