Black and Asian people ‘up to twice as likely to be infected with Covid’

The risk of ending up in intensive care with coronavirus may be twice as high for people with an Asian background compared to white people, data gathered from more than 18 million individuals in 50 studies across the UK and US also suggests.

Black and Asian people are up to twice as likely to be infected with Covid-19 compared to those of white ethnicities, according to a major new report.

The report, published in the EClinical Medicine by The Lancet, is the first ever meta-analysis of the effect of ethnicity on patients with Covid-19.

The scientists behind it said their findings should be of “importance to policymakers” ahead of the possible roll out of a vaccine.

Decisions on whether those from black and Asian backgrounds should be on the priority list for a vaccine will need to come from the government and Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the government on all aspects of vaccination, they said.

Dr Manish Pareek, associate clinical professor in infectious diseases at the University of Leicester and a senior author on the paper, said: “We must remember that there are several high-risk populations — notwithstanding individuals who are elderly, who have underlying co-morbidities (and) individuals in nursing homes.

“So the government and JCVI will need to make important and difficult discussions and decisions about how to allocate what will undoubtedly be limited vaccine at the outset.

“I don’t think we’re necessarily suggesting that individuals of ethnic minorities should be a priority group necessarily, but I think what we’re saying is that there are several priority groups and the government needs to make those difficult decisions.”

The researchers found people of black ethnicity are twice as likely, and those of Asian ethnicities 1.5 times more likely, to be infected with Covid-19 compared to white people.

Dr Pareek said the findings can mainly be attributed to “increased risk of infection in these communities”.

“Many explanations exist as to why there may be an elevated level of Covid-19 infection in ethnic minority groups, including the greater likelihood of living in larger household sizes comprised of multiple generations; having lower socioeconomic status, which may increase the likelihood of living in overcrowded households; and being employed in frontline roles where working from home is not an option,” he said.

The data also showed that people from an Asian background may be twice as likely to be admitted to an intensive therapy unit (ITU) compared to those who are white.

“A higher degree of morbidities within these populations” could be one of many factors why Asian people were at higher risk of developing severe symptoms, according to the report.

The team said it did not find any increased risk of ITU admissions for people from black and white ethnicities.

Dr Jatinder Minhas, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) academic clinical fellow at the University of Leicester, said: “There was some signal to suggest that Asian individuals are at higher risk of death as compared to white individuals… This wasn’t seen in those of black ethnicities.”

The scientists cautioned that all studies investigating ITU admission included in the meta-analysis had not yet been peer-reviewed.

The report involved studies published between 1 December 2019 and 31 August 2020 both in peer-reviewed journals and waiting for peer-review.

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