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Committee considering ethnicity as a factor in prioritising COVID-19 vaccinations

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is currently reviewing data on potential COVID-19 risk factors such as deprivation and ethnicity.

Open access article

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.

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Ethnicity may be taken into account when prioritising who will receive a COVID-19 vaccine first

Government advisers will consider whether ethnicity and deprivation should be taken into account when prioritising who will receive a COVID-19 vaccine first, when one becomes available.

In preliminary advice issued on request of the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that it considered frontline health and social care workers to be of the highest priority for vaccination against COVID-19, followed by those at increased risk of serious disease and death. 

It said that there was “ongoing work” within the UK to refine the identification of people at risk of serious disease and mortality from COVID-19 infection, and acknowledged that, as well as age and underlying comorbidities, “early signals” had been identified as other potential risk factors, including deprivation and ethnicity. 

The JCVI said it had reviewed “some emerging data” indicating a potentially increased risk of serious disease and mortality from COVID-19 in certain black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. Although it highlighted that the reasons behind the data were “complex, not well understood” and were “undergoing further investigation”.

Elsy Gomez Campos, president of the UK Black Pharmacists Association (UKBPA), told The Pharmaceutical Journal that she welcomed the news that the JCVI were looking at ethnicity as a risk factor to prioritise administration of COVID-19 vaccine.

“The BAME population has been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic and more than 60% of healthcare staff who have died are BAME,” she said.

“While the reasons are not so clear, the facts can’t be denied; the reality is that it may take a while to fully understand how COVID-19 affects the different ethnic groups. But, based on what we know now, ethnicity should indeed be a priority factor for who gets the vaccine first.

“The current lack of explanation should not be an excuse for not protecting the BAME population and therefore I hope they are given priority access to the vaccine when available.”

However, Mahendra Patel, a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society English Pharmacy Board and National Institute for Health Research pharmacy research champion (Yorkshire & Humber Clinical Research Network), said that as well as potentially prioritising BAME groups, there needed to be a “concerted” drive to help them to engage in vaccination programmes.

“It has been commented that people from some groups within the BAME communities may not be as active in coming forward for treatment and prevention programmes, so, from that perspective, not only should they be prioritised because they’re at a much higher risk, but there has to be a concerted tailored effort — taking into account the different religious, cultural and behavioural beliefs and attitudes — to helping them to engage in those vaccination programmes.”

The JCVI said it was “mindful” that work to more clearly define those at increased risk of serious disease and death from COVID-19 was “ongoing”, and so was therefore not able to be specific as to what conditions constituted an at-risk group.

However, it said its advice would be updated where possible as further evidence emerged. 

A government spokesperson said: ”Our vaccination programmes are led by the latest scientific evidence and we expect the committee’s advice to develop as more evidence is gathered.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20208090

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