Nurses are key to encouraging vaccine uptake in BAME communities
Nursing staff can, and are, playing a pivotal role in addressing the inequity in the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine among white and non-white populations, writes Donna Kinnair | PA Images
Nurses understand their patients and are best placed to allay any concerns and dispel any myths they might have about the vaccine. Government must cut the red tape preventing more nurses from playing their part in the vaccination programme.
As a health visitor working in east London in the 1990s, I saw at first-hand how pervasive people’s distrust of the establishment can be. People from disadvantaged backgrounds, including black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, face a whole range of inequalities compared to their richer counterparts spanning health, their economic circumstances – everything.
Coupled with this, many from communities like my own – the black community – have a deep suspicion of government and its influence on their lives. When it comes to vaccines, this can include a distrust of why they are being asked to have it.
Anti-vaxxers have been quick to play on these fears and suspicions, propagating all kinds of myths
The reasons for this distrust are many. It can stem from the government being seen as faceless bureaucracy, to the idea that they are guinea pigs being used by the big drug companies to try out new drugs, to simply not knowing what exactly is in the vaccines.
Anti-vaxxers have been quick to play on these fears and suspicions, propagating all kinds of myths. Including that there are foetal products in them, meat, that they have not been tested on people from BAME communities, or – most bizarrely of all – that they have microchips in them.
Unchecked, these lies can quickly gain currency within those communities. I’ve seen it threaten to happen within my own – and put people off having a life-saving vaccine.
So how can we stem the tide of these falsehoods?
There are various avenues we can go down including some which have been a feature of the Covid-19 vaccination programme rollout. Celebrities such as film stars and politicians posing having their vaccine done, or leaders within communities most susceptible to these pernicious myths speaking out and assuring them the vaccines are safe.
Nursing staff have a huge role to play too.
Nurses have been front and centre of the vaccine rollout. As we have seen numerous times on television recently it is typically a nurse who administers the inoculation. But they also have a key role to play in reassuring patients the vaccines are safe. Nurses understand their patients really well and are best placed to allay any specific concerns they might have.
It may be that they are a Muslim and worried that something in the vaccine might conflict with their religious beliefs. A nurse will know to refer them a trusted source of information such as the Frequently Asked Questions section of the British Islamic Medical Association website.
Nursing staff, who are highly trusted by the general public, will also know how to dispel the other myths. They know that honesty is the best way to address any concerns.
The frustration of some nursing staff is that this expertise is not being used as widely as it could be. Numerous staff have told me of their frustration at the mountain of red tape they have to get through to join the vaccination programme.
Geared up primarily for NHS staff, it is still – despite calls from the RCN and assurances from the government – overlooking a wealth of talent at the country’s disposal from nurses who work in the independent sector, the travel industry and elsewhere.
Nursing staff can, and are, playing a pivotal role in addressing the inequity in the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine among white and non-white populations. The government should be allowing more to do so.
Donna Kinnair is a nurse and is the chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing.
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