Published: 09:52, 02 April 2021
| Updated: 10:31, 02 April 2021
Fewer than a third of adults have been vaccinated in one Kent neighbourhood - while in others more than 75% have been jabbed.
KentOnline analysis reveals a huge disparity in the number of first doses delivered across 220 areas of the county.
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The staggering difference is primarily driven by the government’s priority groups, which have understandably seen more people vaccinated in areas with older populations.
But it is feared areas with a younger demographic - many of them with more than 60% of adults yet to be vaccinated - could find themselves more susceptible to spikes when pubs and shops reopen this month.
One such place is student hotspot St Stephen’s in Canterbury, where just 31.5% of adults have received their first dose - the lowest rate in Kent.
This compares to 77.9% in Birchington in Thanet, which tops the county table.
With 41% of Birchington’s residents aged 65 or over, and just 11% of St Stephen’s, it’s clear to see why the seaside town is way ahead.
But Professor Martin Michaelis, a bioscientist at the University of Kent, says areas near the bottom of the table could be at a “higher risk” of surges as lockdown eases.
“It is reasonable to assume that vaccinated individuals will produce fewer virus and infect fewer people if they come into contact with Covid-19,” he said.
“Hence, I would expect that communities with a lower proportion of vaccinated individuals are currently at a higher risk of increased Covid-19 rates.
“There are also data suggesting that younger people, who may feel less vulnerable to Covid-19, are on average not as thorough in following the distancing rules.
“This may further increase the likelihood of surges in Covid-19 cases in places like Canterbury with a younger population and fewer vaccinated individuals.”
Of the 220 neighbourhoods in Kent and Medway, the four with the lowest vaccination rates are all in Canterbury, which with two large universities has a young population.
The district itself sits above Dartford in the county table, but only because of the large numbers vaccinated in the neighbouring towns of Herne Bay and Whistable - which both have older populations.
At the other end of the spectrum, Folkestone and Hythe has Kent’s highest district rate, with three of its neighbourhoods among the county's top five.
The saving grace for areas with lower numbers is that those people yet to be vaccinated are largely in the lower priority groups, and deemed less likely to fall seriously ill with the virus.
But Prof Michaelis, a mollecular medicine expert, remains cautious.
“This is the hope, that a spike in cases will not translate into many hospitalisations,” he said.
“However, we will have to see this.
“From a virological point of view, the most worrying aspect is the combination of significant levels of immunity and virus spread at the same time.
“This results in a selection pressure that favours the formation of novel variants that can bypass pre-existing immunity provided by vaccination or previous infections.
“In Belgium, a new, very concerning variant (B.1.214) has just been reported, although there is not yet much information available on this one.
“We may be in the process of generating such variants also here.
“It would be much better to get the Covid-19 numbers further down before we open up.
“This would reduce the risk of virus spread and replication and, in turn, the risk of mutations that result in dangerous, novel variants.”
Health teams across Kent have worked around the clock since December to deliver the vaccines, with 870,141 people receiving their first dose by March 28 - accounting for 60% of all adults.
The speed of the first jab roll-out is expected to slow significantly this month as second doses are prioritised amid supply shortages.
Previously, the government set a goal of vaccinating the top four priority age groups in the country by the middle of this month, a target it reached.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has vowed to offer every adult a jab by July.
Data shows a single dose of either vaccine significantly cuts the chance of serious illness in older age groups, the Pfizer jab slashing it by 75% in the over-70s.