LONDON (Reuters) – Migrants living in Britain will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines regardless of whether they have the legal right to live and work in the country, the government said on Monday, adding that getting the shot would not trigger immigration checks.
The Daily Mail newspaper has reported that those living in Britain who entered the country illegally would be encouraged to register with their local doctor so they could be vaccinated when their turn comes.
Asked about that report, which described the policy as an “amnesty”, a government spokeswoman said: “Coronavirus vaccines will be offered to everyone living in the UK free of charge, regardless of immigration status.
“Those registered with a GP (General Practitioner) are being contacted at the earliest opportunity and we are working closely with partners and external organisations to contact those who are not registered with a GP to ensure they are also offered the vaccine.”
The government said patients undergoing vaccinations, treatment or testing for the coronavirus were not subject to immigration status checks.
Britain has already given first vaccine shots to more than 12 million people. The vaccination programme is running ahead of its European peers, in part due because Britain was the first to approve shots from Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
Britain’s vaccination strategy makes no formal priority of migrants, instead focusing on reaching the eldest and most vulnerable first.
However, some European countries have made a priority of vaccinating refugees, given the risk that new arrivals being housed in asylum centres could spread infection.
In Germany, asylum seekers have been included in the second group to be vaccinated – along with people over 70 and police officers – and should start getting shots in March, according to the government’s vaccination strategy.
(Reporting by William James; editing by Michael Holden)