Black, South Asian Britons remain at higher risk of COVID: Report

Study into health inequalities shows death rates among minority communities are still disproportionately high.

Minority groups also suffered disproportionately high death rates in earlier waves of the pandemic, primarily due to being at higher risk of infection [Hannah McKay/Reuters]

Black and South Asian people remain at higher risk of catching and becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 in the United Kingdom, a government study has found, prompting experts to call on unvaccinated people to get their jabs as soon as possible.

Published on Friday, the review revealed that a greater proportion of Black and South Asian people are dying with the virus than white people, despite infection rates being higher among white people during the latest surge in cases.

Vaccination rates remain highest among white people and lowest among Black people, the study noted.

Dr Raghib Ali, author of the report and an independent government adviser on COVID-19 and ethnicity, said the trend was “almost certainly” down to varying levels of vaccine take-up between the different groups.

Vaccination ‘gap’

Despite public health initiatives to increase uptake among minority groups, including making jabs available through pop-up clinics and places of worship, overall vaccine coverage remains nearly 20 percent lower among Black people aged 70 and over, at nearly 77.6 percent, compared with white people, according to data collated by researchers at the University of Oxford.

Vaccine coverage among South Asian people belonging to the same age group stands at nearly 89.7 percent, almost eight points lower than the 97.5 percent figure recorded among white people aged 70 and over.

“Despite still having lower infection rates for South Asians and [Black people] in this third wave, their hospital rates and death rates are still higher than [white people],” Ali told a media briefing. “This almost certainly sadly reflects the difference in vaccination rates.”

He said vaccination rates in older Black African and Pakistani people had increased recently, but that “the gap is still there”.

“Unfortunately, unless that changes it’s likely that the disproportionate risk for, particularly [Black people] but also South Asians, will still be there, even though in this third wave infection rates have decreased,” Ali said.

The UK recorded 53,945 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the highest daily figure since July 17, government figures showed, with the Delta variant fuelling transmission rates as concerns rise over the newly discovered Omicron strain.

Risk factors

The report into COVID-19 disparities outlined risk factors for ethnic minority groups.

These include occupation, with the risk being elevated for those in public-facing roles; household size, particularly those with schoolchildren and older relatives; and living in densely populated areas with higher levels of deprivation.

Once infected, factors such as being older, male, and having a disability or pre-existing health condition were likely to increase the likelihood of dying.

Kemi Badenoch, the UK government’s equalities minister, said the findings had “transformed” officials’ understanding of how different groups have been affected.

“We know now that factors like the job someone does, where they live, and how many people they live with, impacts how susceptible they are to the virus and it’s imperative that those more at risk get their booster vaccine,” she said.

The report’s authors warned that PR campaigns should not “stigmatise” ethnic minorities by singling them out, and urged officials to improve the quality of health ethnicity data.

All recommendations in the report have been accepted by the UK government.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies