Covid: 10 million still unvaccinated across UK – worst areas revealed as BA4 and BA5 cases surge

More than 10 million people across the UK are still unvaccinated against coronavirus. As a Parliamentary committee urges health bosses to do more to encourage take-up, we reveal the parts of the country proving hardest to reach.

More than 10 million people in the UK, including 3.7 million adults, remain unvaccinated against Covid-19 as the NHS creaks under the strain of the latest wave.

Despite plans for another booster rollout later this year, the figures suggest there is still widespread vaccine hesitancy amongst some of the population.

Earlier this week, the Public Accounts Committee called on health chiefs to redouble their efforts to reach the unvaccinated to cut the risk of Covid deaths. The committee urged NHS England and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to “urgently evaluate” which methods are most effective in increasing vaccine uptake and called for a new approach to tackle low coverage in some ethnic groups.

The latest wave is being driven by highly contagious Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5. Health experts have said the vaccines still give high protection from severe disease and death and are urging all eligible people to get immunised.

In England, 8.8 million people aged five and over (16.6%) are still unvaccinated, including just under three million adults, NHS England data running to 3 July shows.

Separate figures from Public Health Scotland show 15.2% of the country is unprotected against the disease with just under 800,000 unvaccinated, including almost 366,000 adults, as of 3 July.

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Similar figures from Public Health Wales to 6 July show 601,000 people, or 18.2% of the eligible population, are unvaccinated - 321,000 of whom are adults.

Northern Ireland is the nation with the lowest coverage, according to the latest figures. 19.7% of those eligible remain unvaccinated as of 14 July, representing just over 350,000 people, including 113,000 adults.

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With some exceptions, everyone over the age of five is eligible for a Covid vaccination in the UK. The programme has been running since December 2020 with boosters delivered last winter and a further fourth dose administered to the elderly and vulnerable earlier this year. Children aged five and older were invited for their first doses in spring.

The analysis comes as the Office for National Statistics announced this week that more than 200,000 Covid deaths have been recorded in the UK since the start of the pandemic.

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Will there be a new vaccination programme?

Martin Michaelis, professor of molecular medicine in the School of Biosciences at the University of Kent, said it is “impossible to predict” how deadly new variants will be, and stressed the importance of vaccination to prevent severe disease or death.

He said the protection that the vaccines give against catching the current variants BA.4 and BA.5 “wanes relatively quickly”, typically within three months.

He said: “However, there is a big difference between the protection from mild and asymptomatic infection and the protection from severe disease resulting in hospitalisation and potentially death. The protection from severe disease and death by the current vaccines is still high.

“You can see the impact of vaccines by looking at the percentage of COVID-19-infected individuals that are admitted to hospital and die.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, about 1% of infected individuals would die. Now, the proportion is much lower and the spring booster programme has kept the numbers of people needing hospital treatment comparatively low - although there are still 20-30 people dying from COVID-19 each day.

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“Without the vaccinations and the boosters, we would have had further lockdowns.”

Prof Michaelis said there was expected to be another Covid-19 wave this autumn and winter, when people spend more time indoors, so further booster programmes were planned - likely for older people and those with an immune deficit.

He said: “It is not yet clear what these boosters will look like. Drug companies are working on vaccines that specifically target Omicron variants. However, it is not clear how much additional protection this will provide, given that previous Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 infections do not provide much protection from BA.4 and BA.5 infection.”

Professor Michaelis said there may be combined vaccines that target different variants at the same time.

He said: “However, there is still a lot of debate about this, as we do not know what kind of Covid-19 variants will spread in autumn and winter.

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“It is possible that a completely different variant takes over and replaces the currently circulating Omicron variants. If this happens, we will face an entirely new situation.

“It is impossible to predict how deadly such a new variant will be and to which extent the original vaccines, newly developed Omicron vaccines, and previous infections will still provide protection. Considering that all previous variants - Alpha, Delta, and Omicron - largely hit us by surprise, the emergence of a completely new variant is a very plausible scenario.

“To be better prepared for future waves, scientists are working on universal coronavirus vaccines that will protect us from all possible Covid-19 variants and ideally also from other coronaviruses. However, it is not clear when such vaccines may be available, definitely not this autumn.”

UK councils with the lowest vaccination rates

Local data for England suggests vaccination remains an issue in some pockets of the country.

Westminster has the lowest vaccination rate in the country with almost a third (31.9%) unvaccinated, followed by Camden with 31.4% and Barking and Dagenham with 30.3%.

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Looking instead at overall numbers, Birmingham has the greatest number of people left to vaccinate with 290,000, followed by Leeds with 137,000 and Sheffield with 123,000.

This interactive map shows how vaccination rates vary in each region. The darker the colour of the council, the higher the proportion of unvaccinated people.

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At a neighbourhood level, Harehills South in Leeds had the lowest vaccination rate in the country with more than half (56%) of over-fives unvaccinated.

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Elsewhere in the UK, Aberdeen City was found to have the lowest vaccination rates in Scotland with almost a quarter (22.1%) still unvaccinated. Glasgow City has the second lowest vaccination rates at 21.1%, followed by Dundee with 21%.

Glasgow also has the greatest total number of unvaccinated people with 128,000.

In Wales, Cardiff has the lowest vaccination rate with 21.9% still unprotected, followed by Newport with 21.3% and Ceredigion with 21.2%.

In Northern Ireland, the vaccination uptake is not published for local populations aged five and over, only for those aged 12 and over. Mid Ulster has the lowest vaccination rate of over 12s in the country with 16% unvaccinated, followed by Belfast with 14.7% and Causeway Coast and Glens at 14.1%.

‘Get vaccinated’

The latest technical briefing published by the UKHSA stated that there is not yet sufficient data for a robust assessment of current vaccine effectiveness against BA.4 and BA.5.

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However, the UKHSA has found that there are no early indicators of a large change in effectiveness of the vaccines.

Dr Mary Ramsay, director of clinical programmes at the UKHSA, urged everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.

“Covid-19 case rates and hospitalisations continue to rise, although the rate of increase appears to be slowing. Those aged 75 and over who have not taken up the offer of the spring booster put themselves at risk of severe disease.

“We urge all those who are eligible for the spring booster to take up the offer as soon as possible. Anyone who has not yet had their first or second dose, should also get up-to-date with their jabs to give themselves the best possible protection.”

An autumn booster rollout is currently being planned for vulnerable adults and frontline workers later this year.