Covid vaccine: Barriers preventing migrant populations from being inoculated must be broken down for all our sakes – Dr Gwenetta Curry

As vaccine uptake has become a major focus in reducing the spread and impact of Covid-19 across the world, certain populations within the UK remain under protected.

A nurse prepares a dose of Covid-19 vaccine (Picture: Michael Gillen)

Although the official guidelines for undocumented migrants indicate they are eligible to receive the vaccine and the same medical treatment as UK-born citizens, a recent survey found the most GP surgeries refuse to register them.

“NHS policies in England and Scotland state that not having proof of address, ID or immigration status do not constitute reasonable grounds for refusal,” the Bureau of Investigative Journalism noted. It found “less than a quarter of GP surgeries surveyed in cities across England, Scotland and Wales would register someone without proof of address, proof of ID or legal immigration status”.

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This demonstrates GPs' refusal to register undocumented migrants could cause them severe difficulties in trying to get vaccinated. The bureau noted a person calling the NHS hotline to book a vaccine appointment would be directed to register with a GP.

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Survey participants expressed the desire to protect themselves, their families, and their employers. The practice of asking for documents at vaccine walk-in clinics even though they are not necessary creates an unwelcoming environment for migrants due to fear of deportation.

Undocumented migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers tend to live in poor, over-crowded conditions, have precarious occupations and poor sanitation, which increase their risk of contracting the virus. Over the last 18 months, it has become more evident that structural inequalities have had a major impact on the risk of Covid-19 among migrants and ethnic minority populations.

Migrant key workers continue to play a major role in saving lives and keeping society operating during the pandemic. The Migration Observatory at Oxford University found that non-EU workers are over-represented in the health sector, making them more exposed to diseases, including Covid-19.

Many health care workers have been stretched thin and overwhelmed by the constantly high demand over the last year. Medical staff have reported feeling anxious about being infected or passing on the virus to their families.

As restrictions have been lifted across the UK and cases have increased over the last week, it has become imperative that everyone has access to the vaccine.

Scotland reported a record high of 4,323 new cases on August 24 and a positivity rate of 14.5 per cent. These numbers are quite alarming; as vaccination efforts increase we must find ways to improve access to all populations.

The refusal of vaccinations to the migrant populations is not only detrimental to the migrant populations themselves but also broader society. Although policies are in place to grant migrants access to health care resources, including the Covid-19 vaccine, they must still be put into practice. Lack of knowledge regarding the policies and xenophobia have contributed to the unequal treatment of migrants seeking assistance.

Although I risk sounding like a broken record, I must yet again stress that our societies are interconnected, and we depend on each other to maintain the health of society. The creation of the Covid-19 vaccine has meant a return to normal for some people, but it is important to note that the pandemic is not over and people of all ages and ethnicities are continuing to suffer.

Dr Gwenetta Curry is lecturer in race, ethnicity, and health at Edinburgh University

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