Between a third and half of the UK population didn’t receive the recommended number of Covid vaccinations and boosters by summer 2022, according to a study published in The Lancet. The data covers the entire UK population and suggests that more than 7000 hospitalisations and deaths may have been avoided by the summer of 2022 if the UK had had better vaccine coverage.
This study – led by Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) and the University of Edinburgh, UK – used health data for everyone in the UK. The researchers believe this method could be extended to many other areas of medicine with great potential for new discoveries and develop new treatments.
“Large-scale data studies have been critical to pandemic management, allowing scientists to make policy-relevant findings at speed. COVID-19 vaccines save lives. 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,” said Professor Sir Aziz Sheikh, Director of the Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh, HDR UK Research Director, and study co-lead.
In the UK, vaccination started strongly, and 90% of the population had received at least one dose by January 2022. After that, however, researchers don’t really know how many people received their booster shots in a timely manner.
To cover this gap, researchers from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales studied data collected by the NHS data from everyone older than five years from June 1 to September 30, 2022. Data was then pooled and divided according to vaccine status. The team considered those who did not have all their doses as under-vaccinated.
Data revealed that about one-third and one-half of the population was under-vaccinated: 45.7% for England, 49.8% for Northern Ireland, 34.2% for Scotland, and 32.8% for Wales. Using mathematical models with this data, the team suggested that over 7,000 hospitalisations and deaths could have been averted if the UK population had been fully vaccinated. This affected especially those over 75, who were twice as likely to have a severe COVID-19 outcome than those who were fully protected.
“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. 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,” said Professor Cathie Sudlow, Chief Scientist at Health Data Research UK and Director of the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Data Science Centre.
Gulliford MC, Steves CJ. Access to COVID-19 vaccination and COVID-19-related hospital admissions and mortality. Lancet. 2024 Jan 12:S0140-6736(23)02622-3. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(23)02622-3.