Covid: Third wave fears as 'one million most vulnerable still unvaccinated'

13 April 2021, 19:31 | Updated: 13 April 2021, 19:39

More than a million people are still thought to be unvaccinated, a new estimate suggests
More than a million people are still thought to be unvaccinated, a new estimate suggests. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

More than a million people who are considered the most vulnerable to Covid are yet to take up the offer to receive a vaccine, new estimates suggest.

Experts have warned that not all of the potential 1.3 million people will be "refuseniks" and the problem could be access.

One has called for a ramping up of public confidence in the jabs amid his prediction of a potential 50,000 deaths if a third wave was to hit.

The NHS in England has said 19 in 20 people in the top nine priority groups have received at least one dose.

That means 25.7 million people have received a jab, but analysis by the PA news agency suggests this leaves another 1.3 million people, who are either considered extremely vulnerable, over 50 or in health and social care, unvaccinated.

The Department of Health said about 95% of people aged over 50 have had a first dose, while 92% of the clinically extremely vulnerable population have had a jab.

Read more: 'Mistrust in government and science' at the heart of 'vaccine hesitancy', suggests professor

Dr Doug Brown, chief executive of the British Society for Immunology, said that the success of the vaccination programme would make future damage by coronavirus "relatively restricted" but a third wave could still result in 30,000-50,000 deaths.

"So, although the vaccines are important, there are the components to controlling this virus that are important and that is the social distancing measures that we have.

"Now, those will be less necessary, the higher proportion of the population gets vaccinated, which is another reason why young people's vaccination is important, is that for population control - the bigger the proportion of the population that are vaccinated, the less we will need in the way of social distancing."

Office for National Statistics data shows vaccine hesitancy is highest among 16-29-year-olds, with 12% saying they had either declined a vaccine, were unlikely to have it, or were unsure if they would have one – about 1.2 million people.

A total of 9% of 30-49-year-olds, or 1.6 million people, felt the same.

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Dr Brown praised the "brilliant start" to vaccinations but called for a step up in building public confidence in vaccines.

"Community engagement is essential to build public understanding and trust in Covid-19 vaccination, so we urgently need a high-profile multi-faceted engagement campaign with dedicated outreach programmes tailored to diverse communities.

"Clear and open communication from trusted voices, including community leaders, healthcare workers and scientists, together with convenient times and accessible locations for vaccine delivery, are crucial to ensure the high vaccine uptake needed to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2 within our communities."

Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University, said: "The first thing to remember with any vaccination programme is the primary reason for not taking it up is almost always one of access, rather than outright resistance.

"For the most part, it's because the vaccination programme hasn't reached some group in the form that is acceptable to them, at a time and a place and within sort of a framework of persuasion that convinces them that it's a good idea.

"So I think the number of outright refuseniks in that 1.3 million is likely to be very small."

Across the UK, more than 32 million people have been given a first dose while just under 8 million have been given their second.