Older adults from ethnic minority groups, those with severe mental illness or learning disabilities, and those from deprived areas are less likely to have received a coronavirus vaccine, preliminary data suggests.
Researchers analysing GP records for NHS England found “substantial divergence” in vaccination rates when broken down by ethnicity and deprivation, with white people twice as likely to have been vaccinated than black people.
The paper, not yet peer reviewed, is believed to be the first detailed study of the demographic and clinical characteristics of people vaccinated in England.
The authors, from the University of Oxford, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the healthcare technology company TPP, say their findings should be interpreted with caution.
They say the data is from the initial weeks of the rollout, which is “rapidly evolving” and that there will be many drivers behind the varying rates.
They analysed data covering 23.4 million people registered with GP surgeries using the OpenSAFELY-TPP platform for electronic health records, which covers approximately 40% of the general population in England.
Some 961,580 people had received their first Covid-19 jab between December 8 and January 13.
Of the 1,160,062 people aged 80 and over and not living in a care home covered by the dataset, 476,375 had received a vaccine – around 41%.
They found that 42.5% of the 788,806 white people in this group had been vaccinated, compared with 20.5% of the 10,329 black people.
Between 27.0% to 29.5% of people of mixed, other and South Asian ethnicities over 80 had received a vaccine, and 39.7% of those with unknown ethnicity.
Corresponding author Ben Goldacre said: “This reflects previous vaccination campaigns for other vaccines and is consistent with survey data on intention to accept the Covid-19 vaccine.”
The researchers also found that 44.7% of people over 80 in the least deprived areas had been given a vaccine, compared with 37.9% of those in the most deprived areas.
And elderly patients with pre-existing medical conditions were equally likely to have received a vaccine as those without such conditions, which the authors called “reassuring”.
But there were several exceptions with 30.3% of people with severe mental illness having received a vaccine, 30.9% of those with dementia and 28.1% of those with learning disabilities.
The authors say “targeted activity” may be needed to address lower vaccination rates observed among these groups.
They write: “Our finding of discrepancies between ethnic groups is concerning: it requires action, and further investigation; possible drivers include systematic barriers to healthcare access, and vaccine hesitancy amongst certain groups; it may also only arise in the very earliest stages of this new vaccination programme.
“The reasons underpinning variation in Covid-19 vaccination coverage are not yet understood, and information presented here should not be misinterpreted as a criticism of the rapidly established NHS vaccination campaign.
“Further research is needed to understand and address the observed lower coverage among people from more deprived areas, and the striking disparity between ethnic groups.”
The lower rates among people with severe mental illness and learning disabilities may reflect challenges around access for those being cared for in institutional settings, they add.
The data shows that women were less likely than men to have been given a vaccine – with 39.6% of women having been given a vaccine compared to 43.1% of men.
Of all those vaccinated, 169,472 adults had received a second dose (17.6%), with 32,174 of them being elderly care home residents.
The researchers will share weekly updates.