BAME groups hit by Covid 'triple whammy', official UK study finds

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ONS survey shows some people faced greater threat to mental health, incomes and life expectancy

A piece of street art photographed in April depicting an NHS worker.
A piece of street art depicting an NHS worker in Shoreditch, London, photographed in April, just after the first Covid lockdown in the UK began. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
A piece of street art depicting an NHS worker in Shoreditch, London, photographed in April, just after the first Covid lockdown in the UK began. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Last modified on Tue 15 Dec 2020 06.46 EST

Black and minority ethnic groups suffered a “triple whammy of threats” to their mental health, incomes and life expectancy that left them more vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic when it took hold earlier this year, according to the UK government’s official statistics body.

Research from the Office for National Statistics into the wellbeing of different ethnic groups in the UK showed that 27% of people from black backgrounds reported in April finding it difficult to make financial ends meet, compared with fewer than 10% among most white groups.

Quick Guide

When and how will I be able to get a Covid vaccine in the UK?


Now that the UK has authorised the first Covid vaccine, who will get it first?

The government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) says its priority is to prevent Covid-related deaths and protect health and social care staff and systems.

Elderly care home residents and their carers are first on the JCVI’s list because their risk of exposure to the virus is higher and because the risk of death closely correlates with older age. They are followed in priority by anyone else over 80 and frontline health and social care workers.

Even so, for pragmatic reasons NHS staff are likely to be the first group to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech jab. This is because the vaccine needs to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, which can be achieved more easily by using hospital facilities

Are there enough doses to reach all the priority groups?

Together, care home residents, their carers and the over-80s make up nearly 6 million people, and frontline NHS staff a further 736,685. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has said he expects 10m doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be available this year, so if this is the only vaccine authorised, everyone else would have to wait until further doses become available next year. 

Where will I go for the vaccine?

Covid-19 vaccines are expected to be delivered at three types of venue: NHS trust “vaccine hubs” at hospital sites; mass vaccination centres, which are in the process of being set up at places such as football stadiums, conference buildings and racecourses – these are expected to vaccinate up to 5,000 people a day; and at GP surgeries and pharmacies. GPs can also visit care home residents and housebound patients at home without them needing to travel.

How far apart will the two doses be administered, and will I protected after the first?

While there is some evidence to indicate high levels of short-term protection from a single dose of vaccine, a two-dose schedule is what has been approved by the MHRA.

The second dose will need to be delivered at least 21 days after the first, and both will be injected into the deltoid muscle – the thick triangular muscle we use to raise each arm.

For the Pfizer vaccine, its efficacy rate was calculated seven days after the second shot. It is likely that people will have some protection before this, but this is how long it will take for full protection to kick in. We will learn more about the extent of protection and how long it lasts as data from ongoing clinical trials comes in.

Can I pay to get the vaccine privately?

Unlikely. England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, has said he believes Covid-19 vaccines should be delivered according to clinical priority rather than allowing people to jump the queue if they can afford it.

Will I be able to choose which vaccine I have?

Also unlikely, at least in the short to medium term. Assuming more than one vaccine is approved, the priority will be distributing any available doses to the people who need it as quickly as possible.

Linda Geddes

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The Office for National Statistics said its latest assessment of the impact of the pandemic on different groups showed “how people’s circumstances before the pandemic could affect their experience during the first national lockdown”.

More people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups worked in precarious and poorly paid jobs, leading them to be among the most worried about their household finances going into the pandemic in March.

Once the government lockdown took hold, people from BAME groups were more likely to work longer hours and less likely to be employed and eligible to be furloughed than their white counterparts.

Glenn Everett, a statistician at the ONS, said: “Financial resilience was lower among black African or other black households before the pandemic, for example, which would explain why these groups found it harder to manage financially during lockdown. Perhaps unsurprisingly, mental health deteriorated across most ethnic groups during lockdown.”

Those in the Indian ethnic group reported both greater difficulty with sleep due to worry in April during the initial period of lockdown and had higher scores than other groups on a measure of self-reported mental health difficulties.

“White Irish respondents were more likely than those from white British, Chinese and other Asian or black, African, Caribbean or black British groups to report an increase in loneliness or continuing to feel lonely often between 2019 and April 2020.

The general secretary of trade union umbrella body the TUC, Frances O’Grady, said the pandemic had exposed “the structural racism of the UK’s economy yet again”.

She said: “BAME workers have faced a triple whammy of threats during the pandemic.

“Today’s figures show that BAME workers were less likely to be earning enough before the pandemic to avoid hardship during lockdown. BAME workers are more likely to be in low-paid, insecure jobs, where they have been more exposed to coronavirus and more likely to die.

“Today we learned that BAME workers’ mental health has suffered the most during the Covid-19 outbreak. It is past time for the government to act.”

About half of working-age adults of white British and other white ethnicities who were in paid work reported a decrease in their weekly hours in April compared with before the pandemic, the ONS said.