Published by BBC NEWS - 16th January 2024
  • Published
A Covid booster vaccine is prepared by a nurse in spring 2022Image source, Getty Images

More than 7,000 Covid-related hospital admissions could have been prevented in the UK in the summer of 2022 if the population had received the full number of jabs recommended, according to research in The Lancet.

Some 44% of the UK population was under-vaccinated, with younger people among the most likely to skip doses.

In a first, health records for everyone over five in the UK were analysed.

The same approach could now be used to understand other diseases.

The entire population of the UK is 67 million, and all those over the age of five had their anonymised electronic health data analysed for The Lancet study.

It found that between June and September 2022, the percentage of people not fully vaccinated against Covid was:

  • 49.8% in Northern Ireland
  • 45.7% in England
  • 34% in Scotland
  • 32.8% Wales

And that was based on the number of Covid vaccine doses recommended for different groups:

  • one dose for five to 11-year-olds
  • two doses for 12 to 15-year-olds
  • three doses for 16 to 74-year-olds
  • four doses for over-75s
  • more than four for those vulnerable or shielding or with particular health conditions

With about 40,000 severe hospital admissions related to Covid during that summer, the research estimates that more than 7,000 – 17% – would have been avoided if everyone had taken up the offer of the vaccine and booster doses for which they were eligible.

The research used data on Covid vaccinations and tests, as well as from GPs and hospitals, to track health data for the whole population. They then looked at the relationship between the under-vaccinated and severe Covid illness.

They found that under-vaccinated people over-75 were more than twice as likely to be seriously ill with Covid than those who were fully protected.

There was also a link between skipping doses and hospitalisation and death rates in all age groups studied.

‘Help pinpoint groups’

Prof Sir Aziz Sheikh, study co-lead and director of the Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said the research showed Covid vaccines “save lives”.

Although vaccine uptake was high at the start of the pandemic, that declined over subsequent waves of the virus, and health officials were no longer clear about the overall picture.

“As new variants emerge, this study will help to pinpoint groups of our society and areas of the country where public health campaigns should be focused and tailored for those communities,” Prof Sheikh said.

The groups most likely to turn down the invitation to be vaccinated were younger people, men, those living in poorer areas and those from ethnic minority groups.

This was similar for all UK nations. The difference in rates of under-vaccinated between nations is thought to be because of overall population size, demographics and political approach.

Big data potential

Prof Cathie Sudlow, chief scientist at Health Data Research UK, a consortium of researchers who worked on the study, said collecting NHS data on this scale across the four nations of the UK had huge potential.

“We believe that we could and should extend these approaches to many other areas of medicine, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, to search for better understanding, prevention and treatment of disease.”

She said only Qatar, and possibly Israel, had the capability to crunch health data for all age groups and all backgrounds in the same way.

This round of seasonal Covid jabs will be available until 31 January 2024 for those eligible.

You can no longer book a Covid jab online or by calling NHS 119 – but you may be able to with a local NHS vaccination service.

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