Ethnic minority communities are being put at higher risk of falling ill and dying from Covid-19 due to the UK’s vaccine distribution strategy being “colour-blind”, doctors have warned.
Doctors, writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, said that the current prioritisation system “disregards the unequal impact of the pandemic on minority ethnic groups”.
‘Colour-blind vaccination model’
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has largely recommended that the vaccination rollout programme takes an age-based approach, and has said age is the single biggest risk factor for Covid.
Although calls have recently been made for people in higher-risk occupations to be prioritised for the vaccine - including teachers and police officers - this was considered but rejected, as the JCVI said this may slow down the rollout of the jab.
Calls are also now being made for ethnic minorities to be prioritised for the vaccine, with authors in the Journal writing: “The invisibility of these vulnerable groups from the priority list and the worsening healthcare inequities and inequalities are putting ethnic minorities at a significantly higher risk of Covid-19 illness and death.
“The UK’s colour-blind vaccination model disregards the unequal impact of the pandemic on minority ethnic groups, rendering it an enabler of structures that are known to systematically disadvantage BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities.”
However, although different ethnic groups are not specifically mentioned in the vaccine priority list, the JCVI said there should be “flexibility” at a local level, with attention paid to “mitigating health inequalities, such as might occur in relation to access to healthcare and ethnicity”.
The authors also said that ineffective vaccine allocation strategies “likely play a role in the high levels of vaccine hesitancy observed across ethnic minorities”.
‘Dismissing the racial and socioeconomic disadvantages that ethnic groups face may result in devastating impacts’
Lead author Professor Azeem Majeed, of the Department of Primary Care and Public Health at Imperial College London, said : “Dismissing the racial and socioeconomic disadvantages that ethnic groups face may result in devastating impacts lasting far beyond the end of the pandemic.
“Controlling further outbreaks and, ultimately, ending the pandemic will require implementation of approaches that target ethnic minorities as well as ensuring vaccine allocation strategies are effective, fair and justifiable for all.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The independent JCVI’s advice on Covid-19 vaccine prioritisation was developed with the aim of preventing as many deaths as possible, with older age being the single greatest risk of death. We are following the JCVI recommendations so that we save lives.
“We have invested millions into research into ethnic disparities and Covid-19 and established a new NHS Race and Health Observatory to tackle the specific health challenges facing people from ethnic minority backgrounds.”