Representatives from the taxi and private hire trade have spent a huge amount of time throughout the pandemic lobbying the government. First, this was for clarification on whether cabbies were classed as key workers, then for confirmation of face masks being mandatory. The most recent round of lobbying has been aimed at getting drivers the coronavirus vaccine.
Since news of a vaccine broke last year, industry reps have been appealing to the government to recognise the essential nature of the work that drivers do. Throughout the pandemic, taxis have been instrumental in helping essential workers get to and from work, as well as assisting vulnerable people to get to hospital or care appointments.
All the evidence suggests that drivers should be vaccinated as a priority. Now, after months of waiting for clarification, the government have issued their advice.
Labour MP, Grahame Morris, broached the topic in a recent parliamentary discussion. Mr Morris asked for clarification from vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi about whether transport workers would be considered a priority group. Mr Zahawi explained that the current plan is still to vaccinate people in age order. The minister went on to explain that,
“This is because age is assessed to be the strongest factor linked to mortality, morbidity and hospitalisations, and because the speed of delivery is crucial as we provide more people with protection from COVID-19.”
He clarified that any drivers within specific age ranges should be vaccinated in line with the rest of the population. However, there are currently no plans to vaccinate people based upon their occupation.
What Does this Mean?
For many in the industry, this news has been met with disappointment. The trade has already felt under-supported by the government, so this seems to be another blow to an already struggling industry. With the ONS showing that taxi and private hire drivers have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, this is understandable.
However, the UK’s vaccination programme does at least appear to be progressing. Three-quarters of the UK population is predicted to be vaccinated by the first week in August. This is fuelling hopes that the economy can re-open without a hitch (fingers crossed!) which in turn should provide relief to the ailing transport sector.
On top of this, the demographic make-up of local taxi company drivers should be considered. The average age of a taxi or private hire driver as of December 2020 was 50 years of age. 25% of drivers are also over 65, which means that a vast majority of those in the industry are in fact already eligible for the vaccine. Many may have already received it. Only 21% of drivers were under the age of 40.
Whilst this doesn’t make up for the feeling that the industry has been let down, it should at least provide many in the industry with peace of mind that they will soon be getting the vaccine, whether their occupation is prioritised or not.