Minorities in Britain no longer at higher risk of dying from Covid-19

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For the first time in the pandemic, people from minority ethnic backgrounds are not at higher risk of death from Covid-19 than white Britons.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the death rate from COVID-19 is now significantly lower for all ethnic groups than earlier in the pandemic.

Experts suggest that this may be due to changes in exposure to the virus, vaccination, levels of natural immunity and the severity of the Covid variant.

During the first and second wave of the pandemic, between January 2020 and January 2021, minority ethnic groups had significantly higher COVID-19 death rates than white Britons.

“In the first wave and the second wave, the difference in mortality rates was largely due to socio-demographic factors. The main reason for the differences was the difference in infection risk,” said Vahe Nafilian, a senior statistician at the ONS.

During successive lockdown periods, people from minority ethnic backgrounds were more likely to be exposed to the virus because they were more likely to be key workers or live in multi-generational households. The ONS data showed that Covid death rates were highest for Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Black African and Black Caribbean groups.

The third and fourth waves, known as the alpha and delta waves, brought a decline in Covid deaths, but ethnic disparities remained.

“The delta wave coincided with the rollout of the vaccination campaign, where vaccine uptake was much lower in some groups, such as black Caribbean and black African groups, compared to the white British group.” “One of our studies found that to a large extent these differences in vaccination explained the difference in mortality.”

The research showed that the Omicron variant caused less severe disease than the Delta.

“Plus, you’ve got the fact that more and more people have got immunity because they’ve been infected before. So what hasn’t changed over the Omicron period is the difference in vaccinations. It narrowed a bit between the groups.” But it still is,” Nafilyan said. “You would expect a group that is less vaccinated to have the highest mortality rate, and what we find is not the case. So why is it? We can’t say for sure from the data.

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He added: “I don’t think we can do anything other than speculate, but I think it’s good news because the death toll has come down significantly.” He said further research is needed to look at the levels of immunity in different groups, and see whether groups with lower vaccination levels had higher levels of infection.

Kit Yates, director of the Center for Mathematical Biology at the University of Bath, said it was unclear what driving factors are behind the latest figures. “My best guess would be that there were disparities in terms of the risk levels of different ethnic groups earlier in the pandemic, when we were actively trying to control transmission. I suspect these are now quite spread out, which is what we’ve found ourselves in over the past year or so.

Another possibility, he said, was that the vaccines were waning. “We know there are disparities in vaccine uptake by ethnic groups. However, with vaccine safety low and more than a year having elapsed since most people’s last vaccine, the playing field may be leveled.

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