Specialists express “increasing concern” over the fact that people of color and different ethnicities are at a higher risk of poor outcomes if they develop COVID-19. Preexisting diseases, vitamin D levels, or socioeconomic factors do not explain the disparities, they say.
Several recent studies and reports from different countries have shown that Black, Asian, and minority ethnic individuals in the United States and Europe are more likely to experience poor outcomes if they contract SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.
Studies suggest that in the U.S., Black people are 3.5 times more likely to die of causes that relate to COVID-19 compared with white people. Latinx individuals are twice as likely to die with COVID-19 than their white counterparts, according to the same data.
In the United Kingdom, 34% of critically ill patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds.
MNT study summary
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Hence, it is becoming more and more apparent that there are racial and ethnicity-related disparities in COVID-19 outcomes.
In a new study in the Journal of Public Health, researchers from Queen Mary University of London and other U.K.-based institutions have expressed worry about these evident trends:
“There is increasing concern over the higher rate of poor COVID-19 outcomes in BAME [Black, Asian, and minority ethnic] populations. Understanding potential drivers of this relationship is urgently needed to inform public health and research efforts. This work goes some way in addressing some of these pertinent questions.”
– Lead researcher Dr. Zahra Raisi-Estabragh
Underlying factors ‘not easily captured’
In their study, the investigators analyzed data from 4,510 participants to the U.K. Biobank, all of whom underwent COVID-19 testing in the hospital. Of these, 1,326 tested positive for the disease.
An analysis of the data indicated that male biological sex, higher body mass index (BMI), lower socioeconomic status, living in overcrowded quarters, and being Black or belonging to a minority ethnic backgrounds were all independent risk factors for developing COVID-19.
Yet the highest rate of severe COVID-19 appeared among Black and Asian ethnic groups.
The higher rates of severe COVID-19 in BAME populations were not adequately explained by variations in cardiovascular disease risk, vitamin D levels, socioeconomic or behavioral factors, suggesting that other factors not included in the analysis might underlie these differences.
So what is the reason for these discrepancies? The study researchers remain unsure.
“The results of this analysis suggest that factors which underlie ethnic differences in COVID-19 may not be easily captured,” says co-author Prof. Steffen Petersen.
“In addition to assessment of the role of biological considerations such as genetics, approaches which more comprehensively assess the complex economic and sociobehavioral differences should now be a priority,” he adds.
“The detailed participant characterization in the U.K. Biobank, and the rapid linkage of this data with COVID-19 test results from Public Health England permitted consideration of potential importance of a wide range of exposures,” notes another of the study co-authors, Prof. Nicholas Harvey.
However, the work is far from over. Other specialists have commented on the impact of racism and segregation on the access of different racial and ethnic groups to healthcare and their exposure to infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Some have expressed surprise that air quality is not being considered by governments investigating the discrepancy.
Until researchers take an in-depth look at these and other possible underlying factors, outcome disparities for COVID-19 are bound to persist.
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