This group would typically be at the greatest risk of dying from other diseases such as heart disease and cancer, he said.
“If you classify people by where they live and level of deprivation, the more deprived the area, the higher the mortality from Covid-19 – and this looks very similar to the social gradient from all causes of death,” he said.
“In other words there’s a set of causes that are linked to relative deprivation that put you at high risk of whatever disease is going. So the reason for these deaths is not just frontline exposure to the disease,” he said.
Professor John Ashton, former director of public health and author of a book on the pandemic Blinded by Corona, said there was a”multitude” of reasons why people on low wages were more at risk.
“You may be talking about multi-occupation households which are overcrowded and where people are cooped up and there’s little ventilation. So the environment interacts with people’s exposure to the virus,” he said.
The precarious employment situation of many low paid workers has also been highlighted as a particular risk factor. Low-paid workers on zero hours contracts who are only entitled to statutory sick pay may feel they have to come into work when they are unwell. They may also feel less willing to speak up and demand adequate protection.
Sir Michael said that home care workers were particularly exposed to the disease.
“Care workers who are on zero hours contracts and going from one home to another – that’s the worst possible thing for spreading the virus. They are in dreadful circumstances at work and fewer than half get the national living wage,” he said.
The data from the ONS may sway those who believe that other risk factors should be taken into account when determining vaccine prioritisation. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has come up with a list of nine priority groups, ranging from residents in a care home at the top to all those over the age of 50 at the bottom.
Local authorities have some flexibility in terms of who they prioritise for vaccination as long as they respect the basic order of the vaccine priority list.
Mr Simpson from Unite said hospitality workers should be entitled to receive the vaccine, as well as regular testing.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for JCVI, said: “The JCVI’s advice on Covid-19 vaccine prioritisation was developed with the aim of preventing as many deaths as possible. As the single greatest risk of death from Covid-19 is older age, prioritisation is primarily based on age.
“It is estimated that vaccinating everyone in the priority groups would prevent 99 per cent of deaths, including those associated with occupational exposure to infection.”
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