This article first appeared in The Times newspaper here.
Throughout the pandemic, the transport sector has been one of the unsung heroes of society. During a period when we were all stuck at home, for many days the only external face-to-face contact would be the socially distanced delivery driver dropping off a parcel.
Thousands of others were driving lorries up and down the country, working forklift trucks, and otherwise continuing to go to work and potentially expose themselves to the virus so that the rest of us could stay at home and shelter.
Those in the transportation industry help to feed our country, help to connect it, and help to protect it. They are part of the great frontline effort against Covid and have allowed us to keep our nation moving at a time of deep social and economic uncertainty.
With the latest ONS data estimating that the transport sector is ranked among the lowest for the Covid booster uptake, it is imperative that as the industry helped us during the lockdowns, and continues to help us today, we now help them.
The evidence, however, suggests that those in the industry – including train, tram and bus drivers, airport baggage handlers, HGV drivers, forklift operators and taxi drivers – are among those with the lowest uptake for getting a booster vaccine.
ONS statistics released near the end of last year revealed that just 43.9 per cent of those in the sector aged 40-64 had had their third jab, compared to a much higher 58.4 per cent of those in the secretarial sector.
For taxi and cab drivers in particular, the ONS estimate that just 40.3 per cent had had their third jab, along with 42.8 per cent of van drivers. When we consider the prolonged contact that many of these drivers have with customers, passengers and colleagues that they don’t normally see as they travel across the country, this figure is simply too low.
Most workers in the transport sector do indeed want to get the booster vaccine and play their part in defeating Covid. However, in order to achieve that feat, we must recognise that those working in this sector often work unsociable, long hours away from home, moving goods and people across the country, and so we must put measures in place to make the vaccine more accessible according to their availability and placement.
Inevitably, for every worker in the transport industry that falls ill to Covid, hundreds of businesses struggle to meet customer demand, more train services are cancelled, and more products fail to reach our supermarket shelves.
If we are to keep this country moving, we must prioritise those in the transportation industry, a sector already struggling to cope under the pressures of both an absence in workforce numbers and delays in licensing applications and renewals.
I urge the government to look at the feasibility of setting up Covid booster sites at truck stops, service stations and transport hubs around the country to help those in the industry get the vaccinations they need to protect themselves and to continue keeping our country moving during these turbulent times.
To this end, I have written to the secretaries of state for transport and for health and social care to ask them to urgently look at doing exactly this, so that we can boost booster uptake among those working in the transport sector.
The alternative is to consign ourselves to the predictability of a lower uptake of the vaccination in one of our key industries and the inevitability of more cancellations in the transport of goods, services and people. We must not fail those who did so much for us throughout the pandemic.