Aberdeen has been thrust into the centre of a debate about prioritising Covid jabs for police, fire and other frontline workers- despite claims it would be “unscientific and completely impractical”.
The Conservative, Aberdeen Labour and independent administration members were joined by Liberal Democrats in backing Depute Provost Jennifer Stewart’s plea for a change to ensure key workers – including the teachers orchestrating the imminent return of all pupils to school – were inoculated soonest.
The Hazlehead, Queen’s Cross and Countesswells member brought forward the motion as urgent business at a meeting of all councillors, calling for key workers to be given “armour” in the “battle” against the virus.
Mrs Stewart, an independent who also convenes the public protection committee, said: “It would be fair to say everyone has experienced pain and I think there was real excitement when the vaccination was developed and coming ahead and there was hope in sight.
“Speaking as a mother first, as an elected member and convener of public protection, I feel really concerned and that there is a duty to protect the fire service and police.
“These key workers are serving and protecting us, and sometimes they don’t have anyone to speak up for them – I think that’s what I’m doing now.
“We need to see them as a priority. I really hope members can support this – it’s heartfelt, we need to do this, we need to Scottish Government to protect those who protect us.”
It follows enraged input from the Scottish Police Federation, frustrated officers dealing with the public will not be among the first to have the jab.
But the Scottish Government said it was following the recommendations of the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to prioritise recipients by age as “the best way to address the risk of severe illness and mortality”.
A spokeswoman said: “The priority list has been designed to target those most at risk from the virus and a proportion of teaching staff, Police Scotland officers, and Scottish Fire and Rescue firefighters will fall within the list and will be offered the vaccine in line with this.”
Only SNP councillors opposed the calls, despite heaping praise on Mrs Stewart for the compassion she had shown in arguing for the change.
John Cooke, who sits on the Integration Joint Board which oversees health and social care in Aberdeen, said: “I don’t doubt the depute provost’s sincerity in a very emotional speech and I don’t think anyone would disagree with a number of the points made.
“However, the reason we have our amendment is unfortunately the motion is unscientific and completely impractical. It would not work.
“I am not a virologist or an epidemiologist. People with those qualifications are not in the chamber but sit on the JCVI.”
His party colleague Alex McLellan added: “Whilst the depute provost’s compassion is admirable we need to stick to the expert advice however difficult it may be.
“But I thank Councillor Stewart for her comments and allowing us to reflect on the difficulties we have all faced in the last year, including the key workers who have had a much more difficult time than others.”