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Recording of “COVID-19 vaccine declined” among vaccination priority groups

Recording of “COVID-19 vaccine declined” among vaccination priority groups: a cohort study on 57.9 million NHS patients’ primary care records in situ using OpenSAFELY

How to cite: Helen J Curtis, Peter Inglesby, Brian MacKenna, Richard Croker, William Hulme, Christopher T Rentsch, Krishnan Bhaskaran, Alex J Walker, Caroline E Morton, David Evans, Amir Mehrkar, Seb Bacon, Chris Bates, George Hickman, Tom Ward, Jessica Morley, Jonathan Cockburn, Simon Davy, Anna Schultze, Elizabeth Williamson, Helen I McDonald, Laurie Tomlinson, Rohini Mathur, Rosalind M Eggo, Kevin Wing, Angel YS Wong, Harriet Forbes, John Tazare, John Parry, Frank Hester, Sam Harper, Shaun O’Hanlon, Alex Eavis, Richard Jarvis, Dima Avramov, Paul Griffiths, Aaron Fowles, Nasreen Parkes, Stephen JW Evans, Ian J Douglas, Liam Smeeth, Ben Goldacre


Background: All patients in England within vaccine priority groups were offered a COVID-19 vaccine by mid-April 2021. Clinical record systems contain codes to denote when such an offer has been declined by a patient (although these can in some cases be entered for a variety of other reasons including vaccination delay, or other administrative issues). We set out to describe the patterns of usage of codes for COVID-19 vaccines being declined.

Methods: With the approval of NHS England and using the full pseudonymised primary care records for 57.9 million NHS patients, we identified all patients in key vaccine priority groups: aged over 50, or over 16 and at increased risk from COVID-19 (Clinically Extremely Vulnerable [CEV] or otherwise “at risk”). We describe the proportion of patients recorded as declining a COVID-19 vaccination for each priority group, and by other clinical and demographic factors; whether patients recorded as “declined” subsequently went on to receive a vaccination; and the distribution of code usage across GP practices.

Results: Of 24.5 million patients in priority groups as of May 25th 2021, 89.2% had received a vaccine, 8.8% had neither a vaccination nor a decline recorded, and 663,033 (2.7%) had a decline code recorded. Of patients with a recorded decline, 125,587 (18.9%) were subsequently vaccinated. Subsequent vaccination was slightly more common in the South Asian population than other ethnicities (e.g. 32.3% vs 22.8%, over 65s). The proportion of declining-unvaccinated patients varied strongly with ethnicity (Black 15.3%, South Asian 5.6%, White 1.5% in over 80s); and was higher in patients from more deprived areas. COVID-19 vaccine decline codes were present in almost all practices (98.8%), but with wide variation between practices in rates of usage. Among all priority groups, declining-unvaccinated status was most common in CEV (3.3%).

Conclusions: Clinical codes indicative of COVID-19 vaccinations being declined are widely used in English general practice. They are substantially more common among Black and South Asian patients, and patients from more deprived areas. There is a need for more detailed survey and/or qualitative research with patients and clinicians to determine the most common reasons for these recorded declines.