Downing Street has said there is a “strong case” for police, teachers and the armed forces to get priority for Covid vaccination once over-50s have been given the jab.
In the strongest signal yet that key workers could be allowed to jump the queue from Easter, No.10 backed remarks by home secretary Priti Patel that public servants should be preparing to get the vaccine.
The first phase of the vaccination programme aims to protect everyone over 50 by the spring, with the over-70s and the four most vulnerable groups due to get the jab by February 15.
After the most vulnerable groups are jabbed, ministers aim to widen the vaccination programme to cover everyone over 18 by the autumn. But rather than proceeding on an age-related basis, the type of job someone does could now dominate the priority list.
The independent Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI) is expected in coming weeks to make its recommendation on who should get a priority after the first groups are protected.
The prime minister’s spokesperson said: “There is a case for those who come into contact with the public [...] to receive the vaccine as a priority on phase two.
“But it remains the case that it’s for the JCVI to go away and look at phase two and look at which groups should be vaccinated as a priority, and they will take that work forward.”
The spokesperson said that it remained the case that “phase one” would continue to vaccinate those over 70, who are at greatest risk of hospitalisation and death.
“We will continue to work through phase one. The medical experts have set out clearly that it is those in phase one who are at the most clinical risk.”
But they added: “You’ve heard from the home secretary, the vaccines minister and the health secretary over recent weeks all talk about the case that there is for those who come into contact with members of the public to receive the vaccine as a priority under phase two.”
NHS England revealed on Wednesday that a total of 4.4m Covid-19 vaccinations had taken place up to January 19, an increase of 301,362 on Tuesday’s figures.
The latest number came as it emerged some councils were using reserve stocks of the vaccine to inoculate teaching staff in nurseries rather than throw away excess supplies at the end of each day.
Earlier, Patel said she was actively working on ensuring police officers were ready to be prioritised for a vaccine.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said this week she was “baffled” about why frontline officers were not closer to the front of the queue to receive the vaccine.
Asked whether she wanted to see police “bumped up the queue”, Patel told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is police, fire and other frontline workers, and the health secretary and myself are working to absolutely make that happen – I’ll be very clear about that.
“This isn’t just something we are thinking about. There is a lot of work taking place in government right now.
“If the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) says that is a possibility, we can make it happen. We have the supply, the logistical plans in place – we will absolutely work to make that happen.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.