Watershed moment as ethnicity, deprivation formally recognised as Covid-19 risk factors

At last, some good news. Since the start of the pandemic Dr. Halima Begum of Bethnal Green based race equality think tank Runnymede Trust has been leading a campaign for race and deprivation to be considered as risk factors for coronavirus.

New QCovid software tool

Yesterday it was announced that a new Covid-19 risk analysis tool, QCovid, will include ethnicity and race among a wide variety of factors that the tool uses to identify those at most risk of Covid-19 and customise preventative measures.

Researchers from no less than ten different UK universities (full list below) and NHS staff were led by Professor Julia Hippisley-Cox at the University of Oxford to create QCovid in record time.

Professor Julia Hippisley-Cox University of Oxford

The peer-reviewed research was published in the British Medical Journal in September 2020

This is one reason behind yesterday’s announcement that the number of people in England who need to shield at home from Covid-19 is to almost double from 2.2 million to 3.9 million.

While ethnicity and deprivation have been acknowledged as risk factors related to Covid-19 since just after the start of the pandemic in March 2020 the formal acknowledgement that they are factors is an extremely significant step.

‘Not a complete solution’

Photo of Dr. Halima Begum
Dr. Halima Begum, Runnymede Trust

Dr Halima Begum said that while formal acceptance of ethnicity and deprivation as risk factors was a tremendously important step in the right direction and ‘should be welcomed with open arms’ the new measures are by no means a complete solution, ‘more a halfway house’.

Dr. Begum also said that tens of thousands of people from BME communities would be prioritised for the vaccine and be able to claim statutory sick pay.

In simple terms the purpose of QCovid is to risk assess the general population, inform people about their risk level and support people with decisions about behaviours in consultation with a clinician.

Individual risk assessment

General practitioners will be able to use QCovid to help them individually assess those they think may be at higher risk of catching Covid-19 and rank their risk.

In addition to ethnicity and deprivation levels QCovid takes account of factors such as age, sex, Body Mass Index (BMI), existing health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and cancer and whether someone is living in residential care or is homeless. (The full list of factors is much longer. Much, much longer.)

The QCovid system does not account for an individuals adherence to government guidelines such social distancing or hand washing, their occupation, infection rates or local and national lockdown measures.

Enquirer Comment

It is painful to read QCovid as being described as an ‘algorithm’ in some media reports. It is a lot more than a set of rules to be followed in calculations and suggest who you might want to be friends with on Facebook.

A clue to its sophistication and the sheer hard work and brain power needed to design and build this system is the number of world-class universities who worked together to get QCovid done. Respect.

QCovid Research Institutions

  • University of Oxford
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Swansea
  • University of Leicester
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Liverpool
  • London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • Queen Mary University of London (QMUL)
  • University College London (UCL)
  • Department of Health and Social Care
  • NHS Digital
  • NHS England

Get vaccinated! (please?)

Formal acknowledgement that ethnicity and levels of deprivation are factors contributing to individuals suffering from Covid-19 is a huge step towards a comprehensive understanding of how and why ethnic minorities such as Bangladeshis suffer disproportionately from coronavirus.

The incorporation of these factors into the QCovid tool does not mean there is a miraculous cure for Covid-19 and the need for everyone to be vaccinated, especially those from ethnic minorities, is still of utmost importance.

It does mean that our doctors, hospitals and researchers have a very powerful tool to help stop people catching Covid-19.

We should all recognise the amazing work of Professor Julia Hippisley-Cox and her extended team of researchers for creating QCovid and express our thanks to Dr. Halima Begum and her colleagues for showing just what intelligent campaigning can achieve.

Now back to Moley’s personal quest to get disaggregated Covid-19 ethnicity data.

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