COVID-19 inequalities in England: a mathematical modelling study of transmission risk and clinical vulnerability by socioeconomic status

Lucy Goodfellow*, Edwin van Leeuwen, Rosalind M. Eggo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in major inequalities in infection and disease burden between areas of varying socioeconomic deprivation in many countries, including England. Areas of higher deprivation tend to have a different population structure—generally younger—which can increase viral transmission due to higher contact rates in school-going children and working-age adults. Higher deprivation is also associated with a higher presence of chronic comorbidities, which were convincingly demonstrated to be risk factors for severe COVID-19 disease. These two major factors need to be combined to better understand and quantify their relative importance in the observed COVID-19 inequalities. Methods: We used UK Census data on health status and demography stratified by decile of the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), which is a measure of socioeconomic deprivation. We calculated epidemiological impact using an age-stratified COVID-19 transmission model, which incorporated different contact patterns and clinical health profiles by decile. To separate the contribution of each factor, we considered a scenario where the clinical health profile of all deciles was at the level of the least deprived. We also considered the effectiveness of school closures and vaccination of over 65-year-olds in each decile. Results: In the modelled epidemics in urban areas, the most deprived decile experienced 9% more infections, 13% more clinical cases, and a 97% larger peak clinical size than the least deprived; we found similar inequalities in rural areas. Twenty-one per cent of clinical cases and 16% of deaths in England observed under the model assumptions would not occur if all deciles experienced the clinical health profile of the least deprived decile. We found that more deaths were prevented in more affluent areas during school closures and vaccination rollouts. Conclusions: This study demonstrates that both clinical and demographic factors synergise to generate health inequalities in COVID-19, that improving the clinical health profile of populations would increase health equity, and that some interventions can increase health inequalities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number162
JournalBMC Medicine
Volume22
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024.

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Comorbidities
  • Demography
  • England
  • Mathematical model
  • Socioeconomic inequality

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