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COVID-19: Ethnicity biggest determining factor in vaccine uptake, study finds

Written by on 20 February 2021

A significantly smaller proportion of black people in England aged 70 and over have been given the COVID-19 vaccine compared to other ethnic groups.

Researchers at Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that uptake of the vaccine was one and a half times higher among white people than black people in the same age group.

The team studied anonymised medical records from GP surgeries and found the biggest factor in determining whether someone had been vaccinated was ethnicity.

Just 58% of black people aged 70 and over had received a first dose, compared to 88% for white people. Those from a South Asian background also had a lower vaccination rate at 74%.

The reason for the difference is difficult to determine. The data doesn’t distinguish between people who are “hesitant” about vaccination and those who might not have received an invitation or have trouble accessing a vaccination centre.

A similar ethnicity gap was revealed earlier this week among 19,000 healthcare staff in a study conducted by University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.

The study, which is yet to be peer reviewed, found that 37% of black and 59% of South Asian healthcare workers had been vaccinated compared to 71% of their white peers.

NHS says there is evidence that people from ethnically diverse backgrounds are most likely to be hesitant about getting the vaccine and it’s working with communities to address concerns they might have around safety and efficacy.

Nikki Kanani, medical director for primary care at NHS England and NHS Improvement, said: “Hesitancy is often rooted in historical issues and a wider distrust of authority, so we need to move past the pain and trauma that generations of people may feel about institutions, by recognising concerns and addressing them appropriately.

“Faith and other community leaders are of course crucial to this, but those who work in healthcare are often role models and decision-makers on health within their families.

“So it’s crucial that staff in all roles and from all backgrounds know this vaccine is safe and effective for all.”

Data from NHS England however suggests there’s another vaccination gap emerging among social care workers. One in three are yet to have their first dose despite being one of the groups prioritised for the government’s mid-February target.

There’s also a difference in vaccination rate depending on the level of deprivation in parts of England, according to the data studied by University of Oxford.

Researchers found 81% of people in the most deprived areas had received the first dose compared to 91% of those in least deprived areas.

The government is aiming to offer every adult a first dose, with those over 50 and the clinically vulnerable set to receive the vaccine by May.

But the focus on prioritising older people means some areas with a younger population as well as those with a high proportion of ethnic minorities are lagging behind.

In parts of the South West and the North West, between 35% and 40% of adults have been vaccinated. This compares to less than 15% in some London boroughs.

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