London is lagging on vaccines and UK cannot afford that
The UK is way ahead of the rest of Europe on inoculating its people against coronavirus, but the metrics for its biggest population center and economic engine are looking a little less compelling.
London, the metropolis of 9 million, is lagging other British regions on vaccine take-up. A study published this week also suggested infections were rising last month while the rate of decline nationally was slowing.
It’s partly down to demographics and geography as more people move around the city while sheer population density makes social distancing harder. Yet there are also signs that London, the epicenter of what turned into Europe’s most deadly outbreak, may be getting too complacent as the government plots a way out of lockdown.
Mayor Sadiq Khan warned on Friday there are four times the number of Covid-19 patients in the UK capital’s hospitals than when restrictions were lifted last summer, and the much-vaunted vaccination program has not yet reached all of the most vulnerable Londoners.
The Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker shows 24% of residents of the city have received at least one shot compared with 31% for the country as a whole.
“Now is not the time to take our foot off the pedal, risking a surge in infections or the spread of variants,” Khan said in an emailed response to questions. “We still have some way to go.”
The issue for Britain is that defeating the pandemic means defeating it in London. While Boris Johnson’s government is focused on improving the economic prospects for regions elsewhere, the capital makes up almost a quarter of the UK economy and is the main engine for growth.
The number of people out of work in London jumped to 7% in the fourth quarter from 4.5% a year earlier despite government programs to safeguard jobs. More than a million residents were claiming Universal Credit social security payments in January, an increase of about 150% on a year earlier.
A lower take-up of vaccines in the city could also slow the UK rebound. The government is prioritizing the elderly and London lags all other regions in England across eligible age groups, and especially among 75- to 79-year-olds where many regions have already vaccinated everybody in that category.
In parts of central London, just over 60% of eligible people have received at least one jab, compared with 97% an hour’s drive away in the affluent area of Surrey Heath.
Health professionals are trying to boost vaccinations among some ethnic minority communities, which are more likely to have received misinformation urging them not to be inoculated. A survey by the British Red Cross published last month found people from Black Caribbean, Black African and Pakistani backgrounds in particular were less likely to take the jabs.
“We are continuing to reach out to eligible groups, working with local authorities, care homes, faith and community groups and others to encourage uptake of the safe, effective vaccines which will help save lives,” said David Sloman, regional director of the National Health Service in London.
Complicating efforts to reopen the economy is that some of those who have been vaccinated are breaking lockdown rules, potentially spreading the virus and increasing the risk of more mutant strains emerging.
As a new variant took hold earlier this year, more than 29% of people in the capital are estimated to have ended up with antibodies, the highest rate of any region in the UK, the Office for National Statistics estimated this week.
The number of people going to work and traveling around the city has steadily increased as more people ignore the national lockdown introduced in early January, according to data compiled by Google.
People are mixing more because they are focused on the government’s dates for reopening the economy, said David Nicholl, a hospital consultant and spokesman for the Doctors’ Association UK.
“It is a risk,” he said. “We need to see the figures crushed down.”