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Ethnic differences in risk of severe Covid-19: To what extent are they driven by exposure?

Publication date: 

21 Sep 2021


Journal of Public Health, ISSN: 1741-3842


Edge R, van der Plaat DA, Parsons V, Coggon D, van Tongeren M, Muiry R, Cullinan P, Madan I

Publication type: 



This study quantifies the risk of Covid-19 among ethnic groups of healthcare staff during the first pandemic wave in England. Methods We analysed data on 959 356 employees employed by 191 National Health Service trusts during 1 January 2019 to 31 July 2020, comparing rates of Covid-19 sickness absence in different ethnic groups. Results In comparison with White ethnic groups, the risk of short-duration Covid-19 sickness absence was modestly elevated in South Asian but not Black groups. However, all Black and ethnic minority groups were at higher risk of prolonged Covid-19 sickness absence. Odds ratios (ORs) relative to White ethnicity were more than doubled in South Asian groups (Indian OR 2.49, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.36–2.63; Pakistani OR 2.38, 2.15–2.64; Bangladeshi OR 2.38, 1.98–2.86), while that for Black African ethnicity was 1.82 (1.71–1.93). In nursing/midwifery staff, the association of ethnicity with prolonged Covid-19 sickness absence was strong; the odds of South Asian nurses/midwives having a prolonged episode of Covid-19 sickness absence were increased 3-fold (OR 3.05, 2.82–3.30). Conclusions Residual differences in risk of short term Covid-19 sickness absences among ethnic groups may reflect differences in non-occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Our results indicate ethnic differences in vulnerability to Covid-19, which may be only partly explained by medical comorbidities.