Concerns over low vaccine uptake amid disproportionately high impact of COVID-19

Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportionately high impact on the UK’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in terms of death and serious illness, there are now widespread concerns about the disproportionately low levels of vaccine uptake among these communities. In Wales, for example, Minister for Health and Social Services Vaughan Gething has highlighted the need to increase the uptake in these communities by strongly refuting misinformation about the vaccines. In England, the OpenSafely study by the University of Oxford and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine recently found that Black people over the age of 80 were half as likely to have been vaccinated against COVID-19 (by 13 January 2021) as their white peers.

These concerns must be set against the backdrop of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the UK’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), deaths involving COVID-19 in England and Wales between 2 March and 28 July 2020 highlighted the following disparities:

  • In England and Wales, males of Black African ethnic background had the highest rate of death involving COVID-19, 2.7 times higher than males of White ethnic background. Females of Black Caribbean ethnic background had the highest rate, 2.0 times higher than females of White ethnic background.
  • All ethnic minority groups other than Chinese had a higher rate than the White ethnic population for both males and females.
  • In England, based on a statistical model adjusting for age and excluding care home residents, the rate of death among Black African males was 3.8 times higher than those of White background, while for Black African females the rate was 2.9 times higher; all ethnic groups other than Chinese females were at higher risk of COVID-19 mortality than the White ethnic population.
  • For males, all ethnic minority groups other than Chinese retained a raised rate of COVID-19 mortality following adjustments; for females, all other than Bangladeshi, Chinese and Mixed ethnic groups retained a raised rate of COVID-19 mortality following adjustments.

Note: according to the ONS, these findings show that ethnic differences in mortality involving COVID-19 are most strongly associated with demographic and socio-economic factors, such as place of residence and occupational exposures, and cannot be explained by pre-existing health conditions using hospital data or self-reported health status.