COVID-19 vaccination rates are much higher in White and Indian people and lower amongst Black individuals, new research published today has identified.

Uptake of the coronavirus vaccine is highest among individuals of white British and Indian ethnic backgrounds and lowest among Black Africans and Black Caribbeans, according to research conducted by the Office for National Statistics and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) East Midlands.

Between December 2020 and August 2021, the team of researchers used population-level records from the 2011 Census of more than 35 million adults to assess the variation in vaccination uptake by different sociodemographic characteristics.

They found that vaccination rates were also lower among individuals who identified as Muslim, lived in more deprived areas, reported having a disability and did not speak English as their main language. The findings are particularly important given the growing body of evidence that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are at higher risk of COVID-19 related death.

In addition, they found that vaccine uptake was lower among those who lived in rented housing, belonged to a lower socio-economic group and had fewer qualifications.

The study also reported that adults between the age of 18 and 59 were less likely to be vaccinated than adults over the age of 60.

The research was supported by Health Data Research UK, as part of its Data and Connectivity programme delivered in partnership with the Office for National Statistics, and supported by the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre.

One of the lead researchers Dr Tom Yates, Professor of Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Health at the University of Leicester, said: “We found inequalities in COVID-19 vaccination rates by ethnicity, religion, area deprivation, disability status, English language proficiency, socio-economic position, and education attainment and sex, but some of these differences varied by age group.”

Lead researcher, Dr Vahe Nafilyan, Health Statistician at the Office for National Statistics, added: “Since the relationships between sociodemographic characteristics and vaccination coverage may differ by age group, it is important for future research to disaggregate by age group when examining these inequalities.”

Professor Andrew Morris, Director of Health Data Research UK, said: “We’re pleased to have supported this research which provides the most comprehensive evidence on inequalities in COVID-19 vaccinations to date. By linking clinical records and Census data for over 35 million adults in England, the team have been able to drill down in greater detail on which groups have so far been underserved by the vaccination programme.

“This work is the perfect example of what can be achieved by uniting the UK’s rich but fragmented data assets. Together with the ONS, we’re working to continue to make vital linked datasets like this one available to enable COVID-19 research that improves people’s lives.”

Professor Kamlesh Khunti CBE, Director of NIHR ARC East Midlands and the Real World Evidence Unit and Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester, added: “This study is vital as it provides the first evidence for sociodemographic inequalities in COVID-19 vaccination coverage among the entire adult population in England.

“Several studies have reported differences in coverage by characteristics such as ethnicity and religion, however they have mainly focused on older adults and clinically vulnerable people who were initially prioritised for vaccination. We are pleased that this study has now opened up a different avenue for future research.”

NIHR ARC East Midlands funds vital work to tackle the region’s health and care priorities by speeding up the adoption of research onto the frontline of health and social care. The organisation puts in place evidence-based innovations which seek to drive up standards of care and save time and money.

NIHR ARC East Midlands is hosted by Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and works in collaboration with the East Midlands Academic Health Science Network. It has bases at the University of Leicester and the University of Nottingham.

Read the full paper