'Platitudes won't protect police from coronavirus', Norfolk federation boss warns
The head of the body that represents rank and file Norfolk police officers has slammed the government's refusal to commit to prioritising them for coronavirus vaccines.
Andy Symonds, who chairs the Norfolk Police Federation, said “officers deserve better” after Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday refused to support its call for officers to get the jabs after the initial rollout.
Speaking at a Downing Street briefing, Mr Hancock said he was grateful for officers' work, but insisted the vaccine rollout meant those at greatest risk of getting the virus would receive it first.
But Mr Symonds said this was unacceptable and called on the Government to hold its platitudes and act now to protect officers.
Only last week, an officer who was spat at by a suspect who claimed to have coronavirus called for the government to make his profession a higher vaccine priority.
“Officers have been closing down illegal gatherings, parties and music events, continuing to police protests in all corners of this country," said Mr Symonds.
"They’ve been busy policing those who break other laws who need arresting. Some of whom don’t want to be arrested and therefore fight with officers and spit at them full in the face and say they have Covid.
“Officers have to attend sudden deaths and many of these have been as a result of Covid.
"All of these are risks officers have faced since the start but we simply carried on and got the jobs done professional and without fuss.”
Mr Hancock told the briefing: “We have ensured, through the clinical advice that we’ve taken, that the vaccine rollout goes through those who are most at risk first.
"So any police officer who is aged over 50 will be part of the initial rollout through the current groups down to what I call the JCVI cohorts 1-9, from the joint committee on vaccinations and immunisations which advises us on the clinical basis for the order.
“After that we will then look at what order we go next and we’ll consider, for instance, questions of people who are in professions where you might have to be in contact with more people and the impact of the vaccine on transmission and make a decision and publicise it as soon as we’ve made that decision.
“No decision has yet been made in what order we’ll go after the JCVI cohorts 1-9 but we’re looking very closely, including at where police officers should be in that order.”
But Mr Symonds retorted: “My colleagues are out there putting themselves in harm’s way. My views have never wavered in that officers need to be vaccinated as a priority, not after over 32 million vaccinations have been deployed people within groups 1-9.
“I have made it clear and I know my colleagues support this view that officers did not and do not want to be above those who are most vulnerable in society.
"However I want to see my colleagues being given the vaccine after the first phase of vaccines have been administered in groups 1-4.
“We have around 124,000 police officers in England and Wales. It would take a few hours to vaccinate my colleagues.
"These are the men and women who are putting themselves and their families at risk and have done since the start of this pandemic.
"They do so as they believe in protecting the communities they serve. However now we have vaccines that offer protection then it is incumbent on this Government to in turn protect these men and women who have gone above and beyond during this last year.”
The Government decision to not prioritise police officers has come despite lobbying from the Police Federation, Chief Police Officers, the Met Commissioner and the College of Policing.
And Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last month that police officers should be vaccinated “as soon as possible”, whilst Home Secretary Priti Patel told policing to “get ready” for officers to receive the vaccine.
Mr Symonds said: “Now we have a vaccine, the Government must allow officers to access it. Much like many other countries across the world have done, countries that recognise the risks officers face and have done the right thing in vaccinating their officers.
“This Government are happy to come out in the media and declare what a fantastic job officers are doing and that we have their admiration. Well show it by action and not platitudes.”