Anti-vaxxers to blame in Leeds neighbourhood with country's lowest jab rates

  • Video report by Jon Hill

So-called anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists have been blamed for putting people off having the jab in a Leeds neighbourhood with the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rates in the whole of England.

More than two-thirds of people in Leeds City Council's Harehills South ward have not had two doses of the vaccine, despite regular pop-up clinics and pleas from local doctors.

Vaccination centres in West Yorkshire have been targeted by people peddling myths about the safety of the jab during the pandemic. And there is concern that some groups are especially susceptible to misinformation spread on social media.

Speaking to ITV News, one resident said: "I don't want to take it. I don't believe in taking headache tablets because my body can fight anything – chicken pox, mumps."

But now, as Leeds marks more than 2,000 Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic – and with hospitals in the city continuing to treat around 250 coronavirus patients – people are being urged to ignore conspiracy theorists.

Nahid Rasool, from the Shantona Women's Centre

"Mixed messages"

Nahid Rasool, from Shantona Women's Centre, says that mixed messages from the authorities, as well as the influence of anti-vaxxers, have contributed to the low take-up.

"It's the social media definitely. Also the mixed messages coming during the lockdown to now, messages are not coming clearly."

Vaccine hesitancy in Leeds

Leeds has seven of the 10 council wards with the lowest vaccination rates (for two jabs) in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire:

  • Leeds - Harehills South: 36.7% of people double-jabbed

  • Leeds - Harehills North: 40%

  • Leeds - University & Little Woodhouse: 40%

  • Bradford - Shearbridge & University: 40.4%

  • Leeds - City Centre: 40.8%

  • Leeds - Woodhouse & Little London: 41.5%

  • Leeds - Cross Flats Park & Garnets: 42.7%

  • Sheffield - Devonshire Quarter: 42.7%

  • Boston Boston Central & North: 43.6%

  • Leeds - Lincoln Green & St James: 44.9%

Bangladeshi community leaders in Harehills are urging Muslims to come forward for their jab as they say that – despite claims to the contrary – the vaccine is not banned by Islam.

Mohammed Afzal Hossain says the vaccine is permitted within Islam Credit: ITV News

Mohammed Afzal Hossain, from the Bangladeshi Community Centre, said: "It is allowed in Islam to go and take care of yourself."

'Densely populated, deprived, diverse'

But there are calls for town hall leaders to do more to engage with the local population.

A Leeds City Council spokesperson said there is a "focused approach" in areas where vaccination rates are low.

It said there were other reasons why Harehills is a particular challenge.

"One factor is that Harehills is a densely populated, deprived and diverse area of Leeds which has a higher number of people who are under 40 who therefore became eligible for their vaccine later in the programme," they said.

"This will have an impact on the picture the data presents. At present, we are working with the NHS on the 'every jab counts' approach - it's not a quick process to change people's minds but we are continuing to do all we can."