New Study Shows Widening Socioeconomic Inequalities in Flu Vaccine Uptake during COVID-19 Pandemic.
A new study published in PLOS medicine, from researchers at the University of Manchester and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration Greater Manchester (ARC-GM) finds that socioeconomic inequalities in annual seasonal influenza (flu) vaccine uptake widened significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study utilised electronic health records from Greater Manchester (2015/16 to 2021/22), focussing on three age groups eligible for the NHS flu vaccination:
- preschool children (ages 2 to 3 years),
- primary school children (ages 4 to 9 years), and
- older adults (age 65 years and above).
Key findings of the study include:
- Among older adults, the gap in flu vaccine uptake between the least and most income-deprived areas doubled over the seven flu seasons, with approximately 80% of this increase occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Among preschool children, the uptake gap increased in 2020/21 before decreasing in 2021/22.
- Among primary school children, inequalities increased in both COCID-19 pandemic years,
- Despite an overall increase in vaccine uptake during the pandemic, larger increases occurred in less deprived areas, leading to wider inequalities across all age groups.
The study's lead author, Dr Ruth Watkinson, commented these findings:
“The COVID-19 pandemic caused major disruption to routine healthcare services, making it harder for some people to get their flu vaccine. There was also a big increase in misinformation about vaccination, which may have put some people off taking up the flu vaccine. It’s really important that we work to address these factors and reduce vaccine uptake inequalities.”
The researchers believe that the widening socioeconomic inequalities in flu vaccine uptake during the COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate disparities in flu-related morbidity and mortality.
This study underscores the need for public health officials and policymakers to address these disparities and ensure that vaccines are accessible to all, especially during public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Further research is required to better understand the underlying causes and develop strategies to mitigate these inequalities in vaccine uptake.
Read the paper in full here:
- Watkinson RE, Williams R, Gillibrand S, Munford L, Sutton M (2023) Evaluating socioeconomic inequalities in influenza vaccine uptake during the COVID-19 pandemic: A cohort study in Greater Manchester, England. PLOS Medicine