A report by UK public health officials has highlighted stark inequalities in the complications of flu and Covid infection related to deprivation and ethnicity.
Hospital admission rates for flu and Covid are more than two times higher for people living in more deprived areas, the analysis by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has concluded.
The report looking at figures from September 2022 to 2023 also found persistent differences in hospitalisation for influenza between ethnic groups.
It emphasises the need to tackle variation in vaccine coverage across different ethnicities and deprivation levels for both flu and Covid, UKHSA urged.
The analysis found that influenza admission rates were 2.6 times higher for those living in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived and 2.1 times higher for Covid-19.
For both viruses, the relative inequity seen in deprivation was most notable for those aged 45 to 64 where admissions were three to four times higher than the most affluent areas, the report said.
Overall admission rates were higher for men than women for Covid-19 but there were no differences between the sexes for flu.
Between ethnic groups, admissions for Covid-19 were similar but not for influenza where the Pakistani ethnic group had a rate 2.7 times higher than the white ethnic group, which was substantially higher than any other group.
Black, African, Caribbean, or black British ethnic groups also had admission rates for influenza that were on average, 1.6 times higher than the white ethnic group, the report said.
But UKHSA said it was important to note there are also likely differences between deprivation levels within ethnic groups, for example ‘people from the most deprived areas within the white ethnic group are likely to have experienced high admission rates, even though the white ethnic group on average had lower admission rates’.
Differences in vaccine uptake is one factor that has been shown to drive inequalities in health outcomes with disparities since the start of the Covid-19 vaccine campaign persisting as boosters have been offered, the report concluded.
Influenza vaccination in those who are eligible is also consistently lower in the most deprived areas with last year’s figures also showing wide variation in uptake among ethnic groups between 49% to 84% in the over 65s and 28% to 54% in younger at-risk groups.
By March 2023, Covid vaccine uptake was 60% in the over 50s in the white British ethnic group compared with 19% of the Pakistani ethnic group and 23% of the black Caribbean ethnic group, the report said.
At the start of this year’s winter vaccine campaign, public health experts urged vulnerable patients to come forward for their influenza jabs, highlighting that more people died from flu than Covid-19 last winter.
It has been estimated that compared to a scenario of no vaccinations, the immunisation programme in 2022/23 prevented 25,200 influenza hospitalisations in England.
The analysis also highlights the importance of routine incorporation of ethnicity and deprivation into surveillance data to help reduce inequalities and direct resources, UKHSA concluded.
This article first appeared on our sister publication Pulse.