Varying Covid outcomes due to ‘intersecting forms of disadvantage’

Jemma Crew, PA Social Affairs Correspondent
·4-min read

Varying coronavirus health outcomes are the result of “intersecting forms of disadvantage”, including structural inequalities faced by certain communities, experts have said.

A combination of political, economic and social factors can have “exponential impacts” on certain groups, according to a paper from the ethnicity subgroup of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

The paper was considered at a Sage meeting on March 25 and published on Friday.

It follows a Government-commissioned report last week, which was accused of failing to recognise the impact of institutional racism in British society.

The sub-group, which advises the Government on the Covid-19 risks and impacts for minority ethnic groups, noted that people from all minority ethnic groups had a higher risk of dying with coronavirus compared to white British people in the first wave.

A woman receives an injection of the the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine
People from minority ethnic groups had a higher risk of dying with coronavirus than white British people in the first wave, according to findings (Danny Lawson/PA)

During the second wave, the elevated risks among black African and black Caribbean groups had “attenuated somewhat” but remained considerably higher for Bangladeshi and Pakistani groups.

The paper said evidence suggests the continued high mortality rates in Bangladeshi and Pakistani groups are due to the amplifying interaction of four key factors.

These are long-standing health inequities, occupation and housing factors, barriers to accessing care, including stigma and racism, and the potential influence of policy on behaviour.

Many co-morbidities associated with severe Covid-19, such as diabetes, are more prevalent among British Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups, the paper notes.

These groups are also more likely to work in occupations with a greater risk of exposure, such as in hospitality and retail, have precarious work, making it harder to take sick leave, or be self-employed with uncertain incomes.

Measures addressing their economic situation and workplace rights will help decrease exposure and transmission, the paper says.

Supermarket shelves
The report shows certain groups are more likely to worth in sectors more vulnerable to Covid exposure such as retail (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

It says evidence shows that increased self-isolation payments would assist all low-paid workers, and further support through food delivery, paid care workers and paid for accommodation outside the home may be required to help family members isolate.

And introducing workplace vaccination schemes in high-risk workplaces, and incentivising or legally requiring employers to give paid time off for vaccination, could improve rates.

The paper also said that members of larger, multigenerational households are at higher risk due to poor quality, dense housing, older members at risk of exposure from younger relatives and care networks linking households.

A focused public health campaign explaining the importance of testing in schools to prevent transmission into the family home could help improve uptake in disadvantaged, minority community areas, the authors say.

The paper also notes evidence that suggests that stigma, including racism, is a fundamental cause of health inequalities and drives morbidity and mortality, undermining access to housing, employment and health care.

A history of experiencing stigma can directly affect an individuals’ health as well as stop people from accessing care, it says.

A general view of a Muslim woman in Bradford
The paper notes that stigma, including racism, is a fundamental cause of health inequalities and drives morbidity and mortality (Danny Lawson/PA)

Recent research suggests some Government interventions unintentionally increased stigma, for example introducing restrictions before Ramadan and Eid last year “fuelled disproportionate public emphasis on transmission within this religious group”.

Multigenerational households have also been singled out as a source of transmission, fuelling division and stress for certain groups, the authors added.

The Sage members also said the Black Lives Matter movement may have created empowerment resulting in “greater use of cultural, religious and collaborative approaches to reducing risk and transmission of Covid-19 in black communities”.

But Bangladeshi and Pakistani groups have not reported similar feelings, and establishing or rebuilding trust in these communities may take longer in the absence of an equivalent national movement, the authors said.

They write: “It is essential that the public environment changes, particularly during the vaccination rollout and with the implementation of local interventions to prevent local transmission or surge testing in areas where new variants emerge.

“If Covid-19 becomes endemic in a local area, public communications and media should clearly state this is due to the structural driver of socio-economic disadvantage, and supportive messages should be given to avoid compounding stigma and exclusion, and thereby worsening health outcomes from Covid-19.”