BMA calls for better targeting of vaccinations

Chaand Nagpaul has criticised the failure to take a more sophisticated approach to the coronavirus vaccination programme which is leaving some of the most deprived and at-risk individuals unprotected.

With the UK government aiming to offer everyone in the top four priority groups as set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) a first dose by 15 February, the BMA council chair said that no account had been taken of accompanying JCVI advice that states the programme should pay ‘due attention to mitigating health inequalities, such as might occur in relation to access to healthcare and ethnicity’.

Office for National Statistics data from the first wave showed people living in the poorest areas of England and Wales were twice as likely to die from coronavirus as those in less deprived areas. Additionally, according to Public Health England, people from ethnic minorities were up to twice as likely as white Britons to die from coronavirus.

Nagpaul said: “We need to be much more sophisticated in making sure the vaccine rollout reaches the people who are at highest risk, beyond the simplistic tiers [priority groups]. One thing we know is Covid-19 has exacerbated health inequalities. So one of the aims of the vaccination programme should be that in addition to the over-80s and the over-70s etc, there should be a parallel approach of the programme rollout to target health inequalities, especially in deprived communities, and as they apply to ethnic minorities.

“Deprived communities do not sit easily in the JCVI tiers. For a start, they have fewer over-80s, because the life expectancy in the deprived communities is lower. So that means that what we’re seeing is a vaccination rollout that is vaccinating higher numbers of people in affluent areas because there are more over-80s and we’re seeing lower levels of vaccinations in deprived communities. What we’re now finding is that, let’s say, a healthy white person of 73 years of age, who is actually not mixing with people, living in a rural area, will get their vaccine, which is fine. But a BAME [black, Asian or minority ethnic] 60-year-old who is in an overcrowded environment with other risk factors where you know that they’re at a high risk of death would not fit into that [prioritisation].”

Nagpaul was speaking to the Guardian to mark the launch of the BMA’s national BAME forum, which he said would address ‘an NHS culture that works against BAME doctors’.