University of Oxford scientists have uncovered a gene that doubles the risk of lung failure and death from Covid.
They say 60% of people from South Asian backgrounds and 15% of people of European ancestry carry the high-risk version of the gene.
Vaccines are key and help significantly reduce these risks, researchers say.
The Nature Genetics study sheds light on why some communities in the UK and South Asia are at higher risk from Covid – but does not fully explain it.
Building on previous genetic work, researchers used a combination of artificial intelligence and new molecular technology to pinpoint the exact gene – called LZTFL1 – responsible for the increased risks.
They estimate the risky version of the gene is present in about 2% of people from African-Caribbean backgrounds and 1.8% of people of East Asian decent.
Lead researcher Prof James Davies said the discovery that the risky gene does not affect all populations equally was very important.
But he said a complex mix of factors – including age in particular – contributed to each person’s individual risk.
He added “Socio-economic factors were also likely to be important in explaining why some communities have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic.
“Although we cannot change our genetics, our results show that the people with the higher risk gene are likely to particularly benefit from vaccination.”