Healthcare workers of different ethnicities have different immune responses to Covid-19, finds study

Black healthcare workers treating patients in hospitals during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, were more likely than their white counterparts to have had coronavirus infections, even when other influences – including work roles and socio-economic factors – are taken into account, according to a new study.

These new findings, published in eClinical Medicine, are important for helping experts to understand why different people appear to be more likely to be infected with coronavirus and get sick.

The findings are the first from a combined analysis of two UK studies of the impact of Covid-19 on infection and immunity in healthcare workers. PANTHER, which is a large UKRI/ MRC –funded study, based at the University of Nottingham and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust; and COVIDsortium – a London-based study looking at workers at Barts Health and Royal Free NHS Trusts, working with colleagues from Queen Mary’s University and University College London.

The teams collected blood samples from more than a thousand healthcare workers on a regular basis during the pandemic, including from people before, during and after infection.

The samples were analysed for antibodies against the virus, to understand how infection levels changed over time and how many staff have antibodies that are able to fight the virus.

The findings showed that in the UK’s first Covid-19 ‘wave’, people of black ethnicity were twice as likely to have seropositivity than white colleagues, regardless of age, sex, socioeconomic factors and hospital role.

Professor Ana Valdes, from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham and lead investigator of the study, said: “The severity of Covid-19 infection varies substantially among different groups of people. These differences may be down to how the virus provokes an immune response in the human body.”

Professor Ana Valdes, School of Medicine

Dr Charlotte Manisty, Associate Professor of Cardiology at University College London said: “Several studies have shown that people from some ethnic minority populations have been disproportionally impacted by Covid-19. This data from joint studies in healthcare workers in different areas of the UK appears to suggest that Black (but not other ethnic minority) staff were more likely to be infected – even when accounting for other socio-demographic factors. This suggests there may be differences in risk of infection, and needs further studies to investigate further”.

The full study can be found here.

Our findings show that healthcare workers of Black ethnicity have higher overall rates of Covid-19 seropositivity than their white colleagues. These are exciting findings and will go towards further understanding of how different people respond to both the virus, and the vaccine.”

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