COVID-19: Researchers raise prospect of vulnerable BAME people getting vaccine priority

Researchers have raised the prospect of vulnerable people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds taking priority over others if a coronavirus vaccine becomes available.

It comes as a new study, published by The Lancet today, showed that black people are twice as likely to catch COVID-19 as white people, and Asian people are 1.5 times more likely to be infected.

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However, the study found Asian ethnicities are at higher risk of being admitted to intensive care and dying, despite researchers saying the risk of death is "only of borderline statistical significance".

People from black ethnic groups are not thought to be at increased risk of being admitted to intensive care and dying, according to the EClinical Medicine report, which brought together 50 studies on 18 million people in the UK and US.

Dr Manish Pareek, associate clinical professor in infectious disease at the University of Leicester, worked on the paper and said prioritising elderly people and healthcare workers from BAME backgrounds "needs to be examined".

"There's a disproportionate risk, but the decision of the allocation of limited resources, needs to be a policy-making decision," he said.

However, Dr Pareek added that it is unlikely that people from BAME backgrounds would need to be a separate priority group, but groups within the wider BAME population - such as health care workers or the elderly - potentially need to be looked at.

Dr Shirley Sze, a clinical lecturer and specialist registrar in cardiology at the University of Leicester, lead the study. She said: "The clear evidence of increased risk of infection amongst ethnic minority groups is of urgent public health importance.

"We must work to minimise exposure to the virus in these at-risk groups by facilitating their timely access to healthcare resources and target the social and structural disparities that contribute to health inequalities."

During a briefing on the paper, researchers said there was no specific answer as to why Asian people are more severely affected, suggesting it could be due to a greater degree of multi-generational living, socio-demographic structure and a higher likelihood of coming into contact with positive cases.

Dr Laura Nellums, assistant professor in global health at the University of Nottingham, said: "[It's] important to try to address inequalities that are driving the disproportionality.

"It will be important that effort is made to make sure everyone is able to access the vaccine when it's nationally rolled out - particularly when it comes to BAME communities. We need to break down and overcome structural barriers to make sure its accessibility to everyone."