Data analysis experts at the Integrated Covid Hub North East have designed bespoke tools to map communities that may be more vulnerable to Covid-19 and have higher levels of vaccine hesitancy.
The tools, known as the static socio-ecological vulnerability index and the vaccine hesitancy index, have demonstrated their effectiveness and potential impact in the country’s response to the pandemic, in a research paper published in The Lancet Regional Health – Europe.
Since the early days of the pandemic, certain groups were identified as being at greater risk of complications and death from Covid-19, including deprived communities and people from ethnic minority groups.
Dr Claire Welsh, data and analytics expert at the coordination and response centre for the Covid hub and senior research associate for at Newcastle University said: “The indices we have designed give a simple and effective method of ranking geographical areas by characteristics that are linked with higher risk from Covid-19 and vaccine hesitancy.
“Communities harder hit by the virus, or at risk of being so, stand to benefit from targeted and timely public health interventions, such as increased testing, more health protection measures and vaccination campaigns.
“These tools enable us to drill down further, to pinpoint those communities with increased vulnerability so that measures can be put in place to save lives.”
The static vulnerability index report is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK used in pandemic response and produced to this level of detail.
It works by showing that disparities in case rates can be linked to differences in underlying population characteristics, using available data from various national sources, including variables such as deprivation, population density, air quality, obesity and ethnicity rates. The 18 variables are known to be significantly associated with high rates of Covid-19 cases, deaths or hospitalisations.
Meanwhile, the vaccine hesitancy index is the first to be published in the UK and allows for more nuance in understanding health inequalities posed by Covid-19. It uses nationally available data, to demonstrate detailed profiling associated with vaccine hesitancy including gender, age, location, health conditions and housing tenure.
The tools have been used to map communities in the north east of England and have been taken up by Public Health England, local authorities and the regional NHS vaccination programme, to support their planning and response. Examples of this include identifying locations for drop in and mobile vaccination clinics and targeted information campaigns.