London COVID-19 jabs skewed to younger patients amid vaccine hesitancy fears

London has delivered a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to nearly twice the proportion of patients aged 70-74 as the rest of England, but remains well behind other regions on vaccinating over-80s.

COVID vaccine (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
COVID vaccine (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Just under 75% of patients aged over 80 had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the capital by the end of January, compared with between 88% and 93% of patients in other regions of England, NHS data show.

Figures published for the first time on 4 February reveal that despite falling behind on the older age groups, London has made far more progress than any other part of the country on vaccinating patients just over 70 years old. Among patients aged 70-74, 61% have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in London - compared to a national average of 35%.

However, London is also behind the rest of the country on COVID-19 vaccination in patients aged 75-79 - with 76% of this cohort having received a first jab in the capital compared with 83% nationally.

Across England's 42 strategic health partnership (STP) or integrated care system (ICS) areas, variation in vaccine uptake is even greater than at the broader regional level (see interactive table below for full details).

Among patients aged 70-74, in Devon just 16% of patients aged 70-74 have received a first dose of vaccine, compared with 68.9% in this group in the Our Healthier South East London area.

In the 75-79 age group, the range goes from 55.6% in Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin to a high of 94% in Somerset. And among over-80s, the East London Health and Care Partnership has completed just 68.9% of its patients in this age group, compared with a high of 94.9% in Gloucestershire.

London Assembly health spokesperson and GP Dr Onkar Sahota told GPonline he was concerned that vaccine hesitancy - particularly among patients in black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups - was one of several key factors behind the capital's low uptake among older patients.

Vaccine hesitancy

'Trust is a big issue in BAME communities,' said Dr Sahota. 'People are scared, and saying: "We are last in line for everything else - why are we first in line for this?".'

Polling by the Royal Society for Public Health in December found that 76% of the UK population as a whole was willing to have a COVID-19 vaccine if advised to do so by their GP or other health professional - but that among people from BAME backgrounds this fell to just 57%. Almost 50% of England's BAME population is in London.

But vaccine hesitancy was not the sole reason for low uptake in London's older population, Dr Sahota warned. Communicating effectively with London's diverse older population was difficult, with poor digital literacy in this group - and patients were often reluctant to travel to sites further away than their own GP practice, he said.

Dr Sahota said making vaccine available at the level of individual GP practices - along with more warning for practices of deliveries to give them more time to arrange for patients to attend - could help the capital drive up vaccination in its older population.

Londonwide LMCs deputy chief executive Dr Lisa Harrod-Rothwell said London's GPs and practice teams had made great progress on vaccinations despite 'national vaccine supply problems and inequities in distribution'. She added: 'Patients still awaiting their first vaccine are likely to be hesitant about the health benefits. This can be overcome using the trusted relationships that individuals have with their GP and the practice team’s understanding of, and place within, local communities, but only if they are supported to do this at a practice level.'

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