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Covid vaccine trials aim to plug BAME and age data gaps


Call for people from ethnic minority groups, and the elderly, to join the trials

Researchers are calling on more people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, including the elderly, to take part in clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine, so as to better understand the effectiveness of each of the six vaccine candidates.

According to the government, over-65s and those from ethnic minorities are currently under-represented in the trials, which are taking place across the UK.

“To ensure we can find a safe and effective vaccine that works for everyone, we all need to get involved,” said business secretary Alok Sharma.

“That’s why we are urging more people to support our incredible scientists and join the 270,000 people who have already signed up [to take part in trials], so we can speed up efforts to find a vaccine to defeat this virus once and for all.”

People are encouraged to sign up through the NHS Vaccine Registry, which was launched in July and developed by the government, in partnership with the National Institute for Health Research, NHS Digital, the Scottish and Welsh governments, and the Northern Ireland Executive.

So far, only 11,000 trial volunteers are from Asian and British Asian backgrounds, while only 1,200 volunteers are Black, African, Caribbean or Black British, the government said.

And yet, people of Black ethnicity are 1.9 times more likely to die from a Covid-19-related death than those of white ethnicity. Bangladeshi and Pakistani men were 1.8 times more likely to have a Covid-19-related death than white men. For women, the figure was 1.6 times more likely.

The minister for equalities, Kemi Badenoch, said “we have to ensure every community trusts a future vaccine to be safe and that it works across the entire population.

“But with less than half a per cent of people on the NHS Vaccine Registry from a Black background, we have a lot more work to do,” he said. “Together, we can be part of the national effort to end this pandemic for good.”

Kate Bingham, the chair of the government’s Vaccine Taskforce, added: “Researchers need data from different communities and different people to improve understanding of the vaccines. The only way to get this is through large clinical trials.

“We want to ensure the data we get actually represents the different people from different backgrounds in the UK.”

The initiative follows a call issued on 8 October by social scientists from the Social Science in Humanitarian Action Platform, who said that “vaccine trials must engage with communities or risk failure”.

They call for clear and ongoing communication with Covid-19 vaccine trial participants and their communities throughout the process.

“Without contextual understanding and positive community engagement, the negative impacts on trial participants and protests against vaccine trials themselves could ultimately lead to trials collapsing and being shut down,” said Shelley Lees, associate professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and co-author of the briefing.

Lees and her colleagues stressed the importance of understanding local cultures and the realities on the ground of how vaccine trials are received by people at a local level. That contribution from social science alongside medical science is a vital part of finding and rolling out an effective and safe vaccine, they added.