Communities in London are at risk for COVID-19 without a complete vaccine

Professor Kevin Fenton’s Guest Blog, London Regional Director of Public Health, Office for Health Improvement and Discrimination

More than two years after the COVID-19 epidemic, all corners of our lives have been affected by the virus, be it our health, work, education or social life. However, we quickly learned that some communities found the consequences of COVID-19 more difficult than others, and although the picture has improved, this is still true as it was two years ago.

Basically thanks to the huge success of the immunization program, we can feel more confident in our ability to live more safely with COVID-19. The vaccine has been given around the world and is estimated to have prevented about 157,300 people from being hospitalized in England. But it does provide the best protection for those who have taken it and completed their vaccination course – first, second, third need and booster doses, and not all Londoners have done so yet.

A recent analysis by the ONS revealed the ongoing inequality in vaccine use among adults aged 18 and over in London. Sadly, ethnicity and deprivation continue to be important and complex factors affecting whether Londoners are vaccinated. As we add age, we see even greater disparities.

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Some communities in London are vulnerable

There is a clear racial disparity between unvaccinated adults in London. The highest proportion of non-vaccinated Londoners was black Caribbean (43.5%), followed by black Africans (32%) and mixed nationalities (31.8%). All of these are statistically significant compared to the proportion of non-vaccinated white British and Indian Londoners.

If we look at the different age groups in each ethnic group, the proportion of Londoners who have not yet been vaccinated is the highest among the younger age group, 29.1% immunized for those aged 18-29, and 6.6% immunized for those aged 70 and over.

In each ethnic group, Londoners had the largest proportion of young adults aged 18-29 who have not yet been vaccinated. Black Caribbean Londoners aged 18-29 had the highest proportion of unvaccinated adults (66.6%), followed by Black Caribbeans aged 30-39 (63.2%).

Deprivation continues to drive inequality

New data further show that deprivation continues to drive London’s inequality in vaccine adoption. It is not unexpected that the proportion of immunized adults in London is higher than that of the least deprived group among the most deprived. Looking at London as a whole and among the different ethnic groups we see it.

Worryingly, at every level of deprivation, Black Caribbean and black African or mixed ethnic Londoners are again, the least likely to be vaccinated.

Of further concern, however, is that despite being in the richest group, some communities in London were twice as likely to be immunized as the most disadvantaged Londoners among other ethnic groups.

We see this when we compare the richest Black Caribbean and black African Londoners with the most deprived Bangladeshis, Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis and white British Londoners.

Live safely with COVID by getting vaccinated

This new data set clearly highlights the ongoing inequality in London between those who have the vaccine and those who have not.

About eight to nine million of us live in London. We are a large and diverse city, so there is no single, simple explanation of why your race, age and socioeconomic status may affect your vaccination status.

We know that the story is deep and complex to many Londoners. It’s about trust and confidence, questions and concerns about safety, tackling myths and misinformation, the challenge of accessing health services, transitions before COVID-19 and the cultural competence of services and authorities.

Many Londoners are vulnerable to COVID-19 damage without the full protection offered by the vaccine.

Vaccine safety gaps mean that London, and especially some communities within the city, could be at greater risk of a serious outbreak of COVID-19 and any possible future form, which could be even more serious.

The last thing we want to see is that some communities are being hit hard by this virus over and over again through constant re-infection, whether they are absent from work or school, hospitalized or exposed to the debilitating effects of long covid.

Despite the low level of vaccine availability, we are constantly seeing people accepting their vaccine offer. We’ve taken great steps across the epidemic to engage with the different communities in London and the message and publicity programs are working but we have a lot more to do.

For example, participants at the Interactive London Informed event were asked to raise questions to an expert panel, which included representatives of the local community, and a summer health festival co-planned with young Londoners.

It is important that we build on the legacy of what we have learned from the immunization program so that we can engage with our community in new and meaningful ways to improve health and wellness, eliminate discrimination and apply lessons in other immunization, prevention and health services.

As we learn to live with this virus, please give us the best opportunity to do it safely by completing your full immunization course and booster. Vaccines are safe, they are effective, and they have stopped countless infections that cause people to need hospital treatment, so get vaccinated now.

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