It’s vital more BAME candidates take part in Covid-19 vaccine trials to deliver a vaccine that works for everyone
A vaccine is going to be the crucial weapon against Covid-19, writes Kemi Badenoch MP. | PA Images
People from ethnic minority backgrounds are up to 2.2 times more likely to test positive for Covid-19, but are currently under-represented in Covid vaccine trials. That's why I'm calling on BAME volunteers to sign up to the NHS Vaccine Registry.
Covid-19 has cast its shadow over the lives of everybody in this country. But as over time we’ve started to learn more about the virus, we’ve discovered that some groups are at more at risk from a health perspective than others.
Last month a study of 17 million adults in England laid bare a concerning finding that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are up to 2.2 times more likely to test positive for the disease.
Another deeply concerning finding has been uncovered. People from ethnic minority backgrounds might be statistically more likely to be infected with Covid-19. However, they are under-represented in our quest for the only long-term solution to the disease – a vaccine.
In fact, only around one in 200 people on the NHS Vaccine Registry – the online database set up in July to help people volunteer for Covid-19 clinical studies – is Black.
It’s possible that some people are being discouraged from coming forward because of fearmongering from conspiracy theorists
It is vital that this changes. If we are to tackle this deadly disease, we need to find a vaccine that works for people from every background.
That’s why I’ve taken part in vaccine trials. I’d urge you to do the same if you can. It only takes five minutes to sign up to the NHS Vaccine Registry.
It’s also important that we understand why so few people from ethnic minority backgrounds are taking part in the trials. It’s possible that some people are being discouraged from coming forward because of fearmongering from conspiracy theorists. I recently received a WhatsApp message, that had been doing the rounds in the black community. This falsely claimed that: ‘GPs have been instructed to target BAME communities, especially Afro-Caribbeans.’And it added: ‘Vaccinations will also be carried out in schools and BAME children are 1st target group.’
Needless to say, this claim is entirely untrue. The only impact of such messages is to alarm people and to sow the seeds of suspicion about the intentions of the medics, who are working so hard to protect us all.
Vaccines are certainly not tested on anyone outside a formalised trial - like the one in which I participated. And those vaccines are rigorously tested and approved by the UK’s independent medicine and healthcare products regulator, to ensure their safety and efficacy.
Once we became aware of the viral WhatsApp message, we immediately published a rebuttal on the Government’s website. This laid out in no uncertain terms that why the message was incorrect. However, I fear that damage may have already been done. We know messages can spread like wildfire – making them difficult for the authorities to counter.
A vaccine is going to be the crucial weapon against Covid-19. But we are also taking decisive action in the here and now to protect vulnerable people from Covid-19’s impact. We have expanded targeted testing in the worst affected areas. In addition, we are working with faith leaders and local businesses to ensure places of worship and workplaces are Covid-secure. This has helped, as far as possible, to enable life to go on during these unprecedented times.
Research also shows that comorbidities, such as obesity, mean you are more at risk of becoming critically ill, if you catch Covid-19. That is why the Prime Minister launched a new National Obesity Strategy in July to help people lose weight, get active and eat healthier. This is important particularly for some people from ethnic minority backgrounds, who are prone to obesity-related diseases, like diabetes, which are also associated with worse Covid outcomes.
However, for these campaigns to be effective – they must be seen and heard by the right people. That’s why we’ve published crucial public health messages in over 650 titles – many of which have a high ethnic minority readership. In addition, we’ve translated key public messages into different languages so they can reach every community.
Even once we have beaten Covid, we cannot be complacent. In the 40 years I’ve been alive, the number of infectious diseases breaking out has more than tripled. This growth is a worldwide challenge, demanding a global effort.
That’s why along with our fast-moving Covid-19 vaccine research, we are contributing £340 million over the next four years to the World Health Organisation. And we are launching a new National Institute for Health Protection, a new public health agency which will take a rigorous science-led approach to protecting the public’s health.
These measures will help us learn from our global partners on public health issues and in turn share best practice.
We are pulling out all the stops to create a vaccine. I am confident that we will get there. However, we need your help to achieve that goal. So please sign up to the NHS Vaccine Registry at nhs.uk/researchcontact.
Kemi Badenoch is the Conservative MP for Saffron Walden and treasury & equalities minister.