As the United Kingdom battles a coronavirus surge linked to a more contagious variant, one of the country’s most infamous serial killers is set to be vaccinated before millions of Britain’s vulnerable elderly and essential workers on the frontlines, according to reports.
Levi Bellfield, 52, who is serving two whole-life terms for the murders of three people, including 13-year-old Milly Dowler, was offered a COVID-19 jab in a letter sent to him at top-security Frankland Prison, The Sun said.
The former cop who caught Bellfield said the offer is "appalling."
"Prison staff, police officers, teachers, shopworkers and delivery drivers — people who are keeping us going — should be prioritized," former Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton told the UK paper.
Former Home Secretary David Blunkett said the decision defied belief "that prisoners, let alone a child murderer, should be given any opportunity for an early vaccine dose."
"I hope the Justice Secretary will step in immediately and find out why scarce vaccine doses are being deployed in this way — and whose idea it was."
A Ministry of Justice source told The Sun that "there is no vaccine priority for prisoners, nor will there be."
"No minister has seen this letter or thinks criminals should get better access to vaccines than the law-abiding majority," the source added.
A spokesman for the ministry also said, "To suggest prisoners are being treated any differently to the general public is complete nonsense."
Currently, Britain is expanding a coronavirus vaccination program that has seen more than 6 million people get the first of two doses — even as the country’s death toll in the pandemic approaches 100,000.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that three-quarters of the U.K.’s over-80s have received a vaccine shot. He said three-quarters of nursing home residents have also had their first jab.
Health authorities said 6.35 million doses of vaccine have been administered since injections began last month, including almost 500,000 doses on Saturday, the highest one-day total so far. Health officials aim to give 15 million people, including everyone over 70, a first vaccine shot by Feb. 15, and cover the entire adult population by September.
Britain’s vaccination campaign is a rare success in a country with Europe’s worst confirmed coronavirus outbreak. The U.K. has recorded 97,939 deaths among people who tested positive, including 610 new deaths reported Sunday.
The U.K. is set within days to become the fifth country in the world to record 100,000 COVID-19 deaths, after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico — all of which have much larger populations than Britain’s 67 million people.
Britain’s latest surge is being fueled in part by a new virus variant first identified in southeast England, which scientists believe is more transmissible than the original strain. They also say it may be more lethal, though that evidence is weaker.
The British government has said it may tighten quarantine requirements for people arriving from abroad in an attempt to keep out other new variants discovered in South Africa and Brazil. Already travelers to Britain must self-isolate for 10 days, but enforcement is patchy. Authorities are considering requiring arrivals to stay in quarantine hotels like those set up in Australia and some other countries.
The U.K. is several weeks into a lockdown to try to slow the spread of the virus. Pubs, restaurants, gyms, entertainment venues and many shops are closed, and people are required to stay largely at home.
The lockdown rules will be reviewed on Feb. 15, but the government says it is too soon to think about easing the restrictions.