Bespoke measures required to protect vulnerable communities during COVID, advises new briefing

6 Nov 2020

Building bespoke measures into the COVID-19 strategy according to the unique challenges of different communities is essential if the nation is to protect the most vulnerable and mitigate the worst impacts of the virus, says a new briefing published by the British Academy.

What factors make a community more vulnerable to COVID-19 examines the factors affecting vulnerable populations, identifies gaps in knowledge and outlines ways that central and local governments can more effectively prepare for future waves of the virus.

The paper follows a workshop held this summer to examine the broad impact of the virus on vulnerable communities, including those who do not have access to health, transport, employment and education services and those who are marginalised in society because of their race, faith, sex, age or other characteristics.

The authors argue that tailoring the COVID strategy according to the unique challenges facing different communities is the best way to protect those who are most at risk.

Other recommendations include:

  • Decision-makers should connect the track and trace system to knowledge and experience at local levels
  • There is a need to better understand the social dynamics linking medical, social, and economic factors and social resilience in communities
  • Localisation of evidence and analytical capacity will be critical
  • Existing structural and health inequalities must be recognised to address their role as underlying causes of vulnerability
  • Policy responses need to focus more on behaviour and context, not groups and categories
  • Decision-makers should urgently prepare for the long-term societal impacts of the pandemic, drawing on multiple types of evidence
  • Communication will need to be coordinated and targeted more sensitively, making better use of trusted - and more local – leadership.

The workshop is part of Shape the Future, a British Academy policy initiative to explore how to create a positive post-pandemic future for people, the economy and the environment. The cornerstone of this initiative was a series of 20 virtual workshops involving over 250 SHAPE (Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy) academics and specialists from policy and civil society. Each workshop addressed a different policy challenge related to COVID-19, from revitalising societal wellbeing to recreating inclusive economies and utilising insights from history and other cultures.

Dr Molly Morgan Jones, Director of Policy at the British Academy, said:

“With the nation now enduring a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital that decision-makers and those working in policy tailor the COVID strategy according to the unique challenges faced in different areas. This paper – a product of our Shape the Future initiative – demonstrates that high quality local data, knowledge and communication will have a huge role to play in shielding the most vulnerable and mitigating the adverse effects of the virus.

“The paper also highlights the need for methodological innovation and greater capacity to capture the social dynamics, connections, structures and relationships involved in community vulnerability. As with so many aspects of this pandemic, the effectiveness of policies and interventions will be greatly improved if supported by additional input from the SHAPE subjects.”

Professor Dominic Abrams FBA, the paper’s co-author, said:

“Different places, different communities, and people in different types of roles, have unique needs and capacities. If we are to succeed in getting COVID-19 under control, we need to work with those differences responsively and sensitively and enable people to navigate the challenges posed by the virus in ways that work for them in their specific situation. This will require a careful balance between national, regional, and local resourcing and responsibility. We need to design our systems and structures of governance and provision to be able to actively include and support those who are most vulnerable.”

Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of Government Science and Engineering Profession, said:

“I welcome this British Academy report on factors affecting the prevalence of COVID-19 in different communities and on the importance of local leadership and engagement to effective public health understanding and messaging. The report has informed SAGE advice, including papers from the Ethnicity sub-group.”

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