We must urgently mobilise against Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy
People queue to receive their Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre inside the Brighton Centre, Sussex | PA Images
From tackling disinformation to culturally sensitive messaging, we need a multi-faceted approach to boost the Covid-19 vaccine uptake in BAME communities
The extraordinary efforts of governments and pharmaceutical giants working together has gifted us the fastest ever production of a vaccine in the war against Covid-19. History will regard this as a defining moment.
But vaccines and vaccination are, of course, two different things. The arrival of vaccines does not automatically translate into uptake. There is no compulsion in law and any change to this position has been ruled out. People must therefore be persuaded to take the vaccine.
It is a particularly acute issue for those from BAME communities. Despite the rate of Covid-19 infections and deaths among minorities being disproportionately high compared with the white British population, polls have consistently suggested BAME communities are less likely to take the vaccine. Research from SAGE found that a staggering 72% of Black people said they were unlikely to take the vaccine.
Groups that frequently encounter discrimination in their everyday lives have a larger degree of hesitancy towards vaccines. Research has shown that Black and minority ethnic parents in England are three times more hesitant than their white counterparts towards the Covid-19 vaccine for their children and themselves. Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust’s board, the largest hospital trust in England, recently reported substantially lower Covid-19 vaccine uptake among its Black African, Black Caribbean and Filipino staff. According to its director of workforce, the numbers are “dramatically different”.
Despite being at high risk of Covid-19 due to her underlying health conditions, my own mother – of Bangladeshi background – did not want the vaccine
The reasons are complex, ranging from a lack of confidence in safety and believing myths; to who the message for uptake comes from. To overcome this, it is critical that a coordinated effort is devised comprising of researchers, academics, policymakers, physicians, health authorities and vaccine manufacturers at the national and grassroots-level. Culturally sensitive and multilingual communications need to be adopted, and most importantly, conveyed by trusted advisers, such as one’s own GP. Community engagement is absolutely essential in this endeavour as health messages must be alive to local sensitivities.
‘Take the Covid-19 Vaccine’ campaign has been established against this background. Despite being at high risk of Covid-19 due to her underlying health conditions, my own mother – of Bangladeshi background – did not want the vaccine. Her concerns related to safety, ingredients, side effects, and the (lack of) availability of such information in Bengali. It took me over an hour to find it across various websites. If I, a barrister well accustomed to voluminous research, struggled to find this information, I knew others would too. So, I made it my mission to change that.
Our campaign is a voluntary national community-based campaign to encourage vaccine uptake. Our website – www.takethecovid19vaccine.com – backed by a small group of dedicated volunteer researchers and advisers, provides accessible information about each of the Covid-19 vaccines approved in the UK, with answers to common questions and myths. Throughout, we link our website back to useful NHS resources, to support the national effort. In one click, the information is translatable into 18 different languages.
Above all, we are providing a platform and leadership role for dialogue on Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy, bringing together: communities; academics; researchers; local and national politicians; and faith and business leaders, among others. While we recognise that vaccine hesitancy affects minority communities disproportionately, our campaign is targeted for the benefit of all Britons.
We seek to inform and persuade – not criticise or censure. It is an apolitical endeavour. We recognise that to increase vaccine uptake, government cannot achieve this alone. It requires civil society to step up too – it requires each and every one of us to ask ourselves, “What can I do?” It requires local and national leaders, trusted advisers and families to encourage those who are vaccine hesitant to take it.
Kawsar Zaman is a Barrister and founder of ‘Take the Covid-19 Vaccine’ Campaign