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Doctors suggest UK’s colour-blind vaccine strategy may be putting ethnic minorities at higher risk

Published: 10 March 2021

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Omitting ethnic minorities from the vaccine priority list is putting these groups at a significantly higher risk of Covid-19 illness and death, say a group of doctors, including St George’s Dr Mohammad Razai.

Writing in a commentary published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the group say that the UK’s colour-blind vaccination model disregards the unequal impact of the pandemic on minority ethnic groups and is worsening the racial inequalities that the pandemic and the wider response have exposed and amplified.

The commentary describes how Covid-19 has disproportionately affected Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups, resulting in higher rates of infection, hospitalisation and death. People from minority ethnic groups are more likely to live in crowded and multi-generational households where there may be increased risk of transmission. They also comprise a higher proportion of the high-risk and low-paid essential workers, especially in urban areas, thereby increasing their risk of exposure to Covid-19.

Calling for targeted vaccination of all high-risk groups, the lead author of the commentary, Professor Azeem Majeed, of the Department of Primary Care & Public Health at Imperial College London, said: “Prioritising essential workers for vaccination will preserve the healthcare system, accelerate re-opening of society, help revive the economy and enable the operation of essential community services.”

He continued: “If insufficient numbers of individuals from BAME communities are vaccinated, the virus will continue to spread amongst these groups, putting the general population at risk.”

The authors say that ineffective vaccine allocation strategies are likely to play a role in the high levels of vaccine hesitancy observed across ethnic minorities. The UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has highlighted the significant risk of low Covid-19 vaccine uptake in ethnic minorities, advising better understanding of the barriers that contribute to low uptake.

Dr Mohammad Razai, who also recently wrote an editorial in the BMJ on vaccine hesitancy in ethnic minority groups, added: “Targeted vaccination of ethnic minorities at high risk of Covid-19 such as essential workers, socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals and those living in multigenerational households, maximises health benefits for all.

“The colour-blind strategy disregards the crucial fact that ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. This ineffective strategy will likely lead to further loss of lives and worsening of health inequalities and inequities in these communities.”

This paper extends a portfolio of work at St George’s to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. The University has launched a Coronavirus Action Fund to raise money for vital research into the pandemic and is actively seeking support for a broad research programme involving all parts of the University.

Please see our Covid-19 Guidance webpages for more information on the University’s response to the pandemic.

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