Government must put BAME communities at the heart of the Covid vaccination drive
We must rigorously record ethnicity data to monitor uptake of the vaccine and be able to course correct quickly when things go wrong, writes Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP | PA Images
Employment and housing circumstances of people from BAME communities place them in contact with more people and heighten their risk of getting Covid-19. Government needs to treat race as a Covid risk factor.
In the UK, coronavirus has ignited the touchpaper on health inequalities stoked by decades of negligent government policy. The last ten months have been an awful reminder that an unequal society is an unhealthy society.
As citizens on the sharp end of inequality in one of the most unequal countries in the OECD, it’s increasingly clear that Britain’s Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities are suffering even more than most during the pandemic.
Covid-19 patients from these communities have been hospitalised at almost three times the rate of white British people. According to the government’s own statistics, Black men and men from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds aged under 65 have a more than five times higher risk of related mortality compared to men from a white British background. These findings leave the government with no excuse for their inaction.
Too often during this pandemic, ministers and mainstream media have chosen to focus on cultural or even biological reasons for the poor health outcomes of Black, Asian and ethnic minorities. This discounts the obvious fact that the employment and housing circumstances of people from BAME communities place them in contact with more people and heighten their risk of getting Covid-19. No amount of Vitamin D will fix this.
We can’t make the same mistakes with the vaccine. Ministers have rightly prioritised the clinically vulnerable in their vaccination rollout, acknowledging age and pre-existing medical health conditions as risk factors. But the failure to treat race as a risk factor shows they are still not taking structural racism seriously.
People from BAME communities have been more likely to receive fines for minor Covid breaches whilst government advisers have openly flouted these
My colleague Apsana Begum MP has been leading the charge on this issue in Parliament. Just this week, she pressed the Prime Minister on prioritising BAME communities for vaccination and asked if he acknowledged that structural racism had led to these health disparities. In his response, he denied its existence.
A recent Joint Human Rights Committee report into Black people’s human rights revealed that 60% of Black people don’t feel the NHS protects their health to the same level as white people’s. This statistic is also closely mirrored in the Sage study which found up to 72% of Black people said they were unlikely to take the vaccine.
People from BAME communities have been more likely to receive fines for minor Covid breaches whilst government advisers have openly flouted these. Coupled with the government’s duplicitous record during the pandemic, it is clear that these issues of trust have only deepened in recent days.
Of course, these problems go even deeper. Until the government accepts that the inequalities faced by BAME people are a driving force behind poor health outcomes, we are only going to see more of the same.
The Royal College of GPs has argued for the government to prioritise BAME communities for vaccination and run targeted public health campaigns to build confidence in the vaccine.
We also need culturally competent guidance during the vaccine rollout that addresses the additional risks people face from overcrowded housing and unsafe workplaces.
Finally, we must rigorously record ethnicity data to monitor uptake of the vaccine and be able to course correct quickly when things go wrong.
I was pleased to add my name to Apsana Begum MP’s recent call to put BAME communities at the heart of the vaccination drive. There is a mountain to climb if the government is to gain community confidence after decades of systemic neglect. This would be a step in the right direction.
Bell Ribeiro-Addy is the Labour MP for Streatham.