Professor Martin Marshall has urged that people in BAME communities who are eligible to receive the vaccine must be reassured about its ‘efficacy and safety’ to ensure good uptake.
A final priority list published last week by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) did not prioritise vaccination based on ethnicity, and the RCGP has called on the government to provide ‘a more detailed rationale’ around the decision – asking ministers to use a risk score that accounts for ethnicity, geographical socio-economic indicators.
Updated guidance issued by NHS England, however, suggests that designated vaccine sites will be able to prioritise BAME patients if they are oversubscribed.
The guidance, issued on 7 December, states that practices who have more than 975 patients aged over 80 eligible for vaccination can prioritise people according to their age, co-morbidities and ethnicity.
However, doctors’ leaders are concerned that BAME communities are not explicitly identified as a priority group in the guidance despite being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Professor Marshall said: ‘We’re still awaiting a response from our letter to the health secretary asking for a detailed rationale as to why ethnicity has not been included as criteria for prioritisation on the COVID-19 vaccine. However, we do note that ethnicity is a criteria for prioritisation within the existing priority list, in the latest guidance from NHS England.
‘What remains important is that where appropriate, public health communications are tailored to patients in BAME communities, to reassure them about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine and ultimately encourage them to come forward for their vaccination when they are invited for it.
The British International Doctors Association (BIDA) has also flagged its concern at the exclusion of BAME communities from the priority list. It too has written to the health secretary, but has yet to receive a response.
A BIDA spokesperson said: ‘We are concerned about the vague wording in the guidance. This would most definitely lead to variation in the prioritisation at different sites. ‘BIDA would urge the government, the Public Health England (PHE) and the JCVI groups to formulate a sound guidance and include the BAME community, specifying their vulnerability for inclusion and consideration of priority for COVID-19 vaccination. There is still time to rectify this essential omission.’
A government document on the COVID-19 vaccine priority list published on 2 December argues that ‘there is no strong evidence that ethnicity by itself (or genetics) is the sole explanation for observed differences in rates of severe illness and deaths’ from COVID-19.
GP practices have begun to deliver the first COVID-19 vaccines in primary care this week. But some primary care networks (PCNs) have pulled out of the enhanced service contract after guidance changed – advising teams to observe patients for 15 minutes following inoculation.