Lack of trust and wilful misinformation is causing BAME communities to reject the Covid vaccine
Covid has exposed the government’s reluctance to accept the racial inequality fault lines laid bare by the disease, writes Lord Woolley. | PA Images
Boris Johnson’s government has shown a blindside to the depth of race inequality, that if unchecked will cause a generation of mistrust that will only worsen.
There are two elements that often intersect which are at the core of why so many Black Asian and minority ethnic individuals are reluctant to take any of the Covid-19 vaccinations: Lack of trust, and wilful misinformation.
The reluctance to take up the vaccine is deeply troubling, not least because it is the same communities who, for a number of social determinate reasons are often more likely to die from this deadly virus.
Of the two factors that are causing most concern is without doubt the lack of trust by many BAME individuals have in our government and their associated agencies including the NHS that is most prevalent.
This lack of trust isn’t exclusive towards this present government. There’s always been a certain amount of scepticism that BAME communities have held in regards to our democratic and civic institutions because of the deep seated structural race inequality that has never been fully acknowledged must less adequately dealt with. But without a doubt Boris Johnson’s government has shown a blindside to the depth of race inequality, that if unchecked will cause a generation of mistrust that will only worsen.
Covid has exposed the government’s reluctance to accept the racial inequality fault lines laid bare by the disease. It didn’t take long for many of us to join the Covid dots and the devastating impact it was having on so many BAME individuals to understand that over-exposure to the disease was inextricably linked to working practices, such as essential workers on zero hour contracts, or low-pay, poor and overcrowded housing, and inequality in health.
Our government has within its grasp the ability to build trust and move racial inequality dial as never before
But rather than deal the blinding obvious the government, through its cheer leaders, including, Dr Tony Sewell, and Dr Raghib Ali have sought to offer an alternative narrative which in effect ignores peoples lived experience and often pain. Writing the Daily Telegraph Dr Sewell wrote, “Structural Racism doesn't explain why black people are more likely to die from Covid”. Then pivoting with no associated evidence, he went on to strongly suggests we should look to genetics, and no doubt a Black inferiority gene rather than social determinates to explain why more Black people are disproportionately dying of Covid-19.
In his government report for the Racial Disparity Unit, Dr Raghib Alil contrary to almost every other medical BAME Covid review stated that ‘structural racism had no bearing on BAME Covid deaths’.
Too often the government and its cheerleaders view those who want to highlight and tackle the deep-seated structural inequalities as those who are ‘wallowing in victimhood’. The Downing Street line is to ‘change the narrative’. Given this stance and the historical pessimism BAME communities hold towards political institutions and their associated authorities, is it really any wonder that the level cynicism is as it is?
To make matters worse, we have a plethora of outside and inside agitators/disrupters. Some with sophisticated algorithms, spending huge amounts of money with slick videos, targeting certain ethnic and religious communities, and then pour gallons of petrol on the flames of historical mistrust, along with their fears and anxiousness about the Covid vaccine.
I won’t repeat the lies and myths flying about social media because to repeat the lie, often only serves to further fuel it. The 345 million a week for the NHS Brexit ad is a case in point.
So what must our response be?
First, trusted groups, individuals and organisations must have urgent and ongoing conversations within their communities. I would caution in telling people, ‘you must have the vaccine’, but rather explain the facts: ‘We’re more likely to catch it, more likely to be more severely ill from it, and sadly more likely to die from it’.
We must be honest that whilst all the vaccines have been tested to destruction even before it gets to the public, the deadly nature of this disease is that we are not afforded those two year trial periods that would normally apply, but to be clear this for everyone not just BAME communities.
I would also put out that the biggest racial discriminatory factor in regards to the vaccine is that potentially many thousands of poorer people around the world, especially those from Africa, could die precisely because they won’t get access to Covid vaccines due the ongoing national fighting and hoarding of the jab.
Lastly, our government has within its grasp the ability to build trust and move racial inequality dial as never before, because of the way Black Lives Matters movement has dramatically moved the conversation from words to actions. But it demands no more denial and a dramatic action plan to close the ever growing racial disparities that Covid -19 has laid bare and made worse.
Lord Woolley is a crossbench member of the House of Lords and founder of Operation Black Vote.
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