Covid: Leaving ethnic minorities off coronavirus vaccine priority list 'unjustifiable', say healthcare groups

A letter backed by 40 medical groups is calling for ethnic minorities to be prioritised for Covid vaccines because the virus is hitting them hardest. Credit: PA

Medical groups representing ethnic minority NHS staff are calling for their communities to be prioritised in the Covid vaccine rollout.

A letter backed by 33 healthcare organisations recommends the government include ethnic minority communities in category six - out of the nine priority groups for the vaccine.

The calls come after a survey by the British Medical Association that suggests hundreds of doctors from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds do not feel fully protected from Covid-19 at work.

In a document addressed to Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi, the consortium describes the lack of prioritisation as “unjustifiable”.

“The lack of prioritisation of ethnic minority communities by the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) including healthcare workers who feel vulnerable and exposed is unjustifiable,” the letter states.

“There is sufficient evidence demonstrating that ethnic minority communities have higher risk of infection and death from Covid-19.

“Furthermore, the UK has one of the highest healthcare worker deaths in the world, with ethnic minority workers being over-represented.

“Age-based prioritisation overlooks ethnicity as an important risk factor, especially when this compounds with other factors such as occupational risk, social deprivation and living with high risk relatives.”

Who are the nine priority groups?

1 - Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers (800,000 people) 2 - Those aged 80 and over and frontline health and social care workers (a total of 7.1 million people in this group: 3.3m over 80s, 2.4m healthcare workers, 1.4m social care workers) 3 - Those aged 75 and over (2.3 million) 4 - Those aged 70 and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (3.2 million) 5 - Those aged 65 and over (2.9 million) 6 - All individuals aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality (7.3 million) 7 - Those aged 60 and over (1.8 million) 8 - Those aged 55 years and over (2.4 million) 9 - Those aged 50 years of age and over (2.8 million)

The letter adds a recommendation that ethnic minority communities be included in category six, which would put them in the same order as individuals aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions.

The groups make nine recommendations:

  • Amending the dosing schedule to shorten the gap between two vaccines jabs, in line with Pfizer/BioNTech’s approach

  • Prioritising ethnic minority communities for the vaccine

  • Supporting community and faith groups to carry out health information campaigns

  • Better regulation of media to prevent divisive narratives

  • Publish weekly data on vaccine uptake by ethnic groups

  • Publish weekly data on vaccine uptake by faith groups

  • That no person be denied a vaccine on the basis of citizenship or nationality

  • Greater consultation with ethnic minority communities

  • Greater dialogue to understand and respond to concerns of healthcare workers

A survey by the BMA found that many ethnic minority doctors do not feel safe from Covid-19 at work. Credit: PA

"It is beyond comprehension" that ethnic minorities "are not being prioritised in the vaccination programme", the head of one of the groups to sign the letter said.

"Ethnic minorities continue to be disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, including on the frontline," Dr Hina J Shahid the chair of the Muslim Doctors Association & Allied Health Professionals said.

"Yet it is beyond comprehension that they are not being prioritised in the vaccination programme.

"Additionally, ethnic minority healthcare workers report feeling exposed and vulnerable by the current schedule and risk assessment policies.

"These issues need urgent review and action; this letter contains recommendations to redress the inequities the vaccination programme further entrenches.

"We hope these will be taken on board."

Wendy Olayiwola BEM, president of the Nigeria Nurses Charitable Association UK added: "Among healthcare professionals, nurses are the largest discipline and have been the hardest hit in the Covid-19 pandemic, especially BAME nursing staff.

"There is a need for robust information & effective engagement to allow them to be able to make an informed choice regarding the vaccine.

"Currently, vaccination practice varies within organisations, nurses and midwives spend the highest amount of time with patients.

"Therefore, they are more vulnerable due to the high viral load from occupational exposure.

"Nurses should be prioritised for the vaccine.

"In addition, they should be given equal access to the vaccine and vaccine programs should be standardised especially for nurses and midwives."

The letter calls for ethnic minorities to be in the six of the top nine priority groups for a vaccine. Credit: PA

The calls from the medical organisations add to a growing body of voices calling for ethnic minorities to be prioritised in the rollout of the Covid jabs due to disproportionate rates of premature death from coronavirus among patients of Asian and black ethnicities, a large cohort study recently found.

The research, published in the journal BMJ Open, is based on nearly 1,800 patients admitted to five acute hospitals within Barts Health NHS Trust between January 1 and May 13 2020.

However, as recently reported by ITV News, reluctance to receive the Covid vaccine is higher amongst some ethnic minority communities - with one survey suggesting almost three quarters of black Britons do not want to be vaccinated.