2 February 2021

An “explosion” of Covid-19 among London’s rough sleepers saw more than double the number of cases recorded in January than across the whole of 2020, research from University College London has found.

UCL Hospitals’ Find and Treat outreach team recorded 127 positive Covid-19 cases among people experiencing homelessness from 18 outbreaks in the first month of 2021.

That figure dwarfed the 85 cases recorded between April and December 2020. From December to January alone, the number of cases rose by more than seven times over, from 17 cases recorded before the new year up to 127.

Binta Sultan, a doctoral fellow at the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, shared the figures on Twitter, saying a vaccination was “urgently needed for people affected by homelessness” after the “explosion in cases & outbreaks”.

Find and Treat officials confirmed the figures and University College London Hospitals NHS Trust has been approached for comment.

Homeless healthcare organisation called the figures “very worrying”, adding: “Given high numbers of clinically vulnerable & difficulty of self isolating if you live in a hostel or emergency hotel, London must get vaccination going for this group. Many places outside London already on it.”

The shocking statistics have increased calls for people experiencing homelessness to be offered priority access to a Covid-19 vaccine. People experiencing homelessness are more likely to have underlying health conditions that leave them vulnerable to the virus and the average age of death is typically around the age of 45.

New CHAIN figures released last week counted 3,307 people on the streets of the English capital between October and December last year – a fall of nine per cent on the same period last year.

The decrease follows the Everyone In scheme which saw rough sleepers housed in hotels and other emergency accommodation from March 2020 and has protected 33,000 people from the virus, according to government figures.

A UCL study found that the Everyone In scheme saved the lives of 266 people during the first national Covid-19 lockdown last year.

There could have been 21,092 Covid-19 cases without the intervention, according to estimates from medical experts, and the death toll of 24 people would have grown.

The impact of the Everyone In scheme led to London deputy mayor Tom Copley’s call for people experiencing homelessness to be vaccinated while they are once again protected during the current lockdown.

In a letter to the head of the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation Professor Wei Shen Lim, Copley asked for permission to begin vaccinations before current funding runs out at the end of March.

Copley, alongside Senior Advisor to the Mayor on Health Policy and Residential Development Dr Tom Coffey, wrote: “Given the combination of vulnerability to Covid-19, access issues, and practicalities such as the accommodation window we now have, there is a strong case for prioritising this group for the vaccine through the flexibility that JCVI guidance provides.”

In other areas of the country, councils have pressed on with plans to vaccine people experiencing homelessness. Oldham Council led the way, vaccinating 23 people on January 13 including Lee Ullha and Kelly Heney who were dubbed “the world’s first” homeless pair to receive the jab.

Redbridge Council were the next to offer their support before Liverpool vaccinated almost 500 people over one weekend in January. A report into the Liverpool programme found 363 people experiencing homelessness or who were otherwise vulnerable were vaccinated across January 23 and 24 alongside 84 hostel staff. A further 30 people were offered the vaccine to minimise waste, meaning an 477 people vaccinated overall were vaccinated over the two days.

Ryan Young, a GP working with homeless people at Liverpool’s Brownlow Clinic as part of the team behind the vaccinations, said his team were “actually disappointed” with the 58 per cent uptake rate of the jab.

Young learned several lessons from the process and recommended return visits to hospitals and arranging follow-up appointments at drop-in clinics to boost uptake.

Source: Big Issue