A quarter of elderly black people in the UK have not been vaccinated, recent figures show, despite signs that hesitancy is improving generally.
Nearly six months after the government kicked off the country’s most ambitious vaccination campaign, almost one in four black people over the age of 70 were not vaccinated as of 26 May, compared with 97% of white people of the same age.
Among black people in their 50s, this figure rises to one in three, compared with 90% of white people, prompting calls for government to redouble efforts to tackle disparities as restrictions are lifted.
Black people in every age group have the lowest vaccination rates in England and one in three young black people say they are unlikely to get the jab when offered.
According to monthly data from NHS England uptake among people aged 50 and over in black communities was lowest in London and the Midlands, as of 7 May.
Uptake also appears to be lower among black 16- to 49-year-olds, although a growing proportion are getting vaccinated with increases in coverage week-on-week throughout May.
Labour MP Apsana Begum said: “These findings are a complete indictment of the Tory government’s abject failure over so many months to prioritise vaccines for ethnic minority communities.
“Ministers have repeatedly refused to act over warnings from myself and other Labour MPs, going right back to early winter, about the urgent need to control the virus and protect the ethnic minority population.
“We are now seeing the devastating safety and health consequences laid bare, with these communities now at much greater risk of Covid due to these vaccine disparities.”
People from mixed ethnicity and South Asian backgrounds are also consistently less likely to have been vaccinated than white people. However, the disparities are less marked as a growing proportion of South Asian people aged 16-49 were vaccinated week-on-week in May. People from Chinese, Pakistani and Indian backgrounds all have relatively high rates of uptake among 16- to 49-year-olds.
Overall, vaccine hesitancy has declined, with 63% of unvaccinated adults aged 18-44 in the UK saying they would definitely accept the jab when offered, up from 41% in October 2020, according to figures from NHS England and the vaccine confidence project.
In response to these figures, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “I am incredibly proud that our country has one of the highest uptake rates for the vaccine in the world. Millions of people from all backgrounds have joined the national effort and rolled up their sleeves to get the life-saving jab.”
However, one in three black people are still unlikely to accept a vaccine and hesitancy was also higher among people of mixed ethnicity and South Asian backgrounds.
Dr Habib Naqvi, director of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, said: “We can learn from previous waves of the pandemic and draw insight from evidence on the impact of the virus on health inequalities amongst our diverse communities. We need to protect and prioritise the most vulnerable from the disease by focusing on tailored, locally led and culturally sensitive public health approaches and communications to support our diverse communities across the country.”
Dr Sylvia Kama-Kieghe, a GP with 17 years’ experience working in the UK and Nigeria and founder of Ask Away Health, welcomed the improvements in vaccine uptake among some groups and called for the government to ramp up its engagement of local communities. “We’re definitely not out of the woods, it’s not done and dusted. But it’s encouraging that a lot of the cries and the concerns of people like myself who talked about how important it was to engage ethnic minorities … I think there’s been some impact and it’s growing.”
Begum added: “This gross negligence from ministers has created a real risk of the prolonging the lengthy period of unimaginable tragedy, grief and trauma, that ethnic minority communities have been forced to endure due to Tory incompetence …
“With the UK thankfully emerging from many months of lockdown restrictions, it would be an abomination for the government to abandon its responsibility to ethnic minority communities, where there had been a such a disproportionate number of Covid deaths and infections.”
Analysis from OpenSAFELY is based on data from 23.4m patient records from NHS England.