Income inequality within countries correlates with higher COVID-19 infections rates in those nations, according to a new analysis.

The report also raises concerns that these inequalities could hamper vaccination efforts.

“The same marginalized communities that were SARS-CoV-2 infection hotspots can also become fertile ground for the virus to develop new strains before enough people are vaccinated,” says Paul von Chamier, the paper’s author and a research officer at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation (CIC). “In fact, inequality in the vaccine rollout, both within countries and between them, already displays a strong income-related pattern, which suggests the risk of repeating the mistake of letting inequities undermine the pandemic response.”

Von Chamier also concludes that socio-economic policies aimed at lowering inequality could help diminish the impact of future pandemics.

“In the long term, equality and inclusion should become the center of a broader strategy: building resilience against future shocks,” he argues. “A policy commitment to improving socio-economic conditions would be part of a social contract, a genuine investment in a nation’s development, and a way to build back better after the pandemic.”

After the first 21 weeks of the pandemic, that one additional Gini point would correlate with a 33% higher overall number of cases in a country. For example, in the United Kingdom, this would mean an additional 100,000 cases on top of 300,000 infections, which it had accrued by early August 2020, or 21 weeks after the pandemic started.

Von Chamier adds that income inequality is linked to other factors that exacerbate the effects of a pandemic. For example, low levels of social trust have been shown to be more pronounced in countries with high levels of inequality. If these perceptions are applied to professionals—such as doctors and public-health workers—whose role is vital in a pandemic, diminished faith in them is likely to stymie efforts to combat a virus. Moreover, nations with high levels of income inequality are also more likely to have people who lack the financial resources to stay in quarantine and who live in crowded housing conditions—both of which are likely to result in the spread of infections.

“A severe lockdown and prompt government action to the COVID-19 pandemic had a demonstrably positive effect on curbing the spread of the virus in 2020,” von Chamier writes. “However, as the weeks and months passed, the crisis response turned from a sprint into a marathon, with underlying socio-economic tensions inevitably coming to the forefront and becoming key in boosting infection rates.”

Read the full article about income inequity by James Devitt at Futurity.