Under-vaccination has led to 7,000 more severe COVID cases: UK study

More than 7,000 hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19 might have been averted if the UK’s population was fully up to date on vaccines, according to new research published in the Lancet.

The nationwide study, the first of its kind, tracks vaccination and hospitalisation across the UK up until 1 June 2022.

While nearly 90% of the country had received at least one dose of a vaccine by January 2022, a much lower proportion of the population was fully vaccinated – including boosters – 5 months later.

Rates of under-vaccinated people varied between the countries of the UK. Northen Ireland had the highest rates of under-vaccinated people at 49.8%, compared to 45.7% in England, 34.2% in Scotland and 32.8% in Wales.

Over this period, there were 40,393 “severe” COVID-19 outcomes (hospitalisations or deaths), with 14,156 of those being in under-vaccinated people.

The researchers’ modelling found that 7,180 of those outcomes could have been averted if everyone stayed up to date on their vaccinations.

Under-vaccinated people in all age groups were significantly more likely to be hospitalised or die. This was particularly clear in under-vaccinated people over 75 years old, who were twice as likely to have a severe outcome.

“Large-scale data studies have been critical to pandemic management, allowing scientists to make policy-relevant findings at speed. COVID-19 vaccines save lives,” says study co-author Professor Sir Aziz Sheikh, Director of the Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh.

“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.”

The researchers found higher rates of under-vaccination among younger people, men, non-white people and people in areas of higher deprivation.

“The infrastructure now exists to make full use of the potential of routinely collected data in the NHS across the four nations of the UK,” says study co-author Professor Cathie Sudlow, chief scientist at Health Data Research UK and director of the British Heart Foundation.

“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.”

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