COVID-19 vaccination at Glangwili General Hospital in Carmarthen
The call to action extends beyond ethnic considerations, with the agency stressing the importance of timely vaccination before flu starts circulating widely

In a recent statement released by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), a strong appeal has been made to eligible individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds, especially those from Pakistani and black Caribbean ethnic groups, along with residents in more deprived areas, to proactively seek and secure their flu and COVID-19 vaccinations.

The move aims to shield them and their families against the escalated risks posed by these infections during the approaching winter months.

The advisory comes on the heels of a comprehensive report published by the UKHSA that scrutinised the disparities in emergency hospital admission rates for influenza and COVID-19 across England.

The findings unveiled stark differences, revealing that individuals inhabiting the most deprived regions exhibited notably higher rates of emergency hospital admissions compared to their counterparts in the least deprived areas. For influenza-related admissions, persistent disparities among various ethnic groups were also identified.

Winter 2022 to 2023 witnessed influenza emergency hospital admission rates among the Pakistani ethnic group soaring to an average 2.7 times higher than those of the white ethnic group. Similarly, black African, Caribbean or black British ethnic groups experienced emergency hospital admission rates for influenza at an average of 1.6 times higher than the white ethnic group.

The report underscored a significant trend: individuals residing in more deprived areas encountered influenza admission rates 2.6 times higher and COVID-19 admission rates 2.1 times higher compared to those in the least deprived areas.

Dr Mary Ramsay, Director of Immunisation at UKHSA, emphasised: "Taking up both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines provides the best protection against the virus this winter," urging eligible individuals, particularly those from ethnic minority backgrounds, to embrace vaccination against these preventable diseases.

However, the report focused solely on highlighting inequalities in emergency hospital admission rates without delving into the underlying factors contributing to these disparities. Dr Ramsay acknowledged the complexity of health inequalities, citing multiple overlapping factors such as existing social and economic disparities, as well as healthcare intervention coverage like vaccination and pre-existing health conditions.

Dr Shona Arora, Director of Health Equity and Clinical Governance at UKHSA, expressed concern over the observed disparities, calling for swift action.

"The disparities we have observed, with higher hospital admission rates among Pakistani and black, African, Caribbean or black British ethnic groups and individuals living in more deprived areas, are concerning," Dr Arora stressed, urging prompt vaccination bookings through NHS platforms or by dialling 119.

Echoing this sentiment, Dr Salman Waqar, the GP and President of the British Islamic Medical Association, appealed to Muslim communities, emphasising the imperative nature of vaccination to reduce the risk of hospitalisation during winter. Addressing concerns within the community regarding porcine content in children's nasal flu spray, Dr Waqar reassured that the flu injection for both children and adults is devoid of such content and is readily available for free.

Highlighting previous disparities in vaccine coverage, UKHSA's data revealed alarming gaps in influenza and COVID-19 vaccine uptake among ethnic groups. A significant contrast was noted, with only 55 per cent of the Pakistani ethnic group and 49 per cent of the black Caribbean ethnic group aged 65 and above receiving the influenza vaccine in comparison to 84 per cent of the white British group during the winter of 2022 to 2023.

To ensure comprehensive protection, health officials stressed the importance of receiving both flu and COVID-19 vaccines, stressing that simultaneous administration of these vaccines is safe and highly recommended for broader immunity coverage during peak infection periods.

The urgent call for vaccination stands on the robust safety profile and efficacy of both COVID-19 and flu vaccines, supported by extensive UK and global studies. Health authorities reiterate the ease of booking vaccination appointments online, through the NHS app, or via a simple call to 119 for those unable to access online services. Local pharmacies and GP practices also offer avenues to secure the flu vaccine.