A vaccine against the coronavirus developed by the company BioNTech, working together with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, is reported to be 95% effective after concluding its Phase 3 study. The process of securing approval for it to be rolled out is said to already be underway. “This is a victory for innovation, science, and worldwide collaboration,” said Ugur Sahin, founder of BioNTech.

Hamburg, Germany’s Senator for Health and Social Affairs, Melanie Leonhard, called it “very encouraging news,” according to their street paper, Hinz&Kunst. But it’s also clear that there won’t initially be sufficient availability for everyone to be vaccinated. 

The German Council on Ethics, working with local medical authorities and the Leopoldina (the German National Academy of Natural Sciences), has suggested guidelines to help local authorities decide who should be vaccinated first. Older people, medical personnel, police officers, and others who “have key positions in maintaining the central functions of the state” comprise the provisional priority groups.

The guidelines also explicitly mention homeless people and refugees, those who “live in circumstances which make access to healthcare more difficult.” A determining factor in allocating priority would be “a significantly increased probability, if they become ill, of needing intensive medical care, of suffering serious long-term damage to health, or of death.” (A Street Sense Media analysis found that homeless people in Washington, D.C., are three times as likely to test positive for COVID-19 and die due to complications from the virus more than three times as often as the general population.)

On Nov. 11, the European Union announced it had negotiated an agreement with BioNTech and Pfizer for the delivery of an initial 300 million doses of the vaccine. Germany’s authorities are hopeful of acquiring 100 million doses. “For us, this means that we must push ahead with our own preparations for the likelihood of a vaccine becoming available,” Leonhard said. The city is currently getting a centrally-located medical center ready for the vaccine’s arrival. 

People who are homeless are not currently considered a priority for the 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine reportedly ordered by the United Kingdom, according to its street paper, The Big Issue. The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization is prioritizing elderly people, and health and social workers. The committee insists this plan will “likely result in faster delivery and better uptake in those at the highest risk.”

The advice is in keeping with WHO recommendations, which suggest people who are homeless or experience “extreme poverty” should be among the second stage of vaccinations. 

In the U.S., people staying in homeless shelters are also being given priority status and are set to be vaccinated in phase two of the roll-out, according to The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s plan. Health-care workers and elderly Americans as well as those with underlying health conditions are first in the queue for a vaccine before people without a home are targeted alongside others in prisons, jails, and detention centers.

Liam Geraghty of The Big Issue contributed reporting.


Courtesy of Hinz&Kunzt and The Big Issue / The International Network of Street Papers (INSP.ngo). Translated from German by Peter Bone.