It’s been heavily reported that people from black and minority ethnic communities are hesitant about taking the Covid-19 vaccine. While this is true there seems to be less reporting of the other communities who are also hesitant - which can sometimes feel like a specific group is being singled out.
We should be supporting all communities across the board who are vaccine hesitant so that we can beat this virus.
Over all it’s good news across all communities, according to the latest Office of National statistics’ (ONS) lifestyle survey, 91% of adults in the UK reported positive sentiment towards the vaccine, while 9% of adults reported vaccine hesitancy. According to the NHS, as of the second week in March - more than 24 million people in the UK have taken the Covid-19 jab, so in all we are doing well as a country but could always do better.
Of that vaccine hesitancy group - 17% of all adults aged 16 to 29 reported vaccine hesitancy, 44% of Black or Black British people and 16% of adults in the most deprived areas of the UK - based on the Index of Multiple Deprivation. From other sources - young women are also hesitant to take the vaccine due to worries around fertility. While those from the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities report misinformation about the jab having pork products in it, making it Haram (forbidden by Allah) - this rumour is completely false.
One of biggest misconceptions about vaccine hesitancy is that it is mostly an ethnic minority problem but it isn’t.
Statistics show that Vaccine hesitance is higher in more deprived neighbourhoods. What is interesting is that deprived neighbourhoods historically have had a high amount of people from black and minority backgrounds in them.
The bottom line here is that white people from deprived areas are also hesitant.
WHY ARE PEOPLE SCARED TO TAKE THE VACCINE?
Misinformation: There are many reasons as to why people are scared to take the vaccine but one of the biggest I have come across is misinformation. This comes from social media platforms and messaging apps. Many people, including my mum, have received all kinds of videos and voice notes from well-meaning family and friends about the vaccine. Some claiming that the vaccine changes your DNA, makes you sick, or even implants a tracking device into you so the government can monitor your every move.
None of this is true. Some of the videos which say the vaccine is not safe to take seem credible, with people who look trustworthy and say they are doctors or people who develop vaccines.
Many of these people aren’t even who they say they are.
Mistrust: Some in the black and ethnic minority communities do not trust health care professionals or the government. You may think this is farfetched or just down right ridiculous, but they do have valid worries. These worries stem from historical mistreatment, legitimate studies, real life statistics and fear.
History: The Tuskegee experiment was a study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the United States Public Health Service and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The purpose of this study was to observe the natural progression of untreated syphilis. Scientists chose 600 African American men to take part, 399 of which had syphilis. These men weren’t told of their diagnoses, only that they had “bad blood,” which was a local term used to describe several ailments, including syphilis, anaemia, and fatigue. They did not receive the proper treatment needed to cure their illness even after treatment was available. The men were lied to and many died from syphilis or related complications. The study lasted 40 years.
Statistics and studies: Black women are four times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy or childbirth in the UK, and women from Asian backgrounds are twice as likely to died, according a report. It is an improvement on last year’s stats that show Black women’s likelihood at five times more likely to die in childbirth. The reasons for this disparity are not fully understood, but an article in the British Medical Journal argued that institutional racism is a factor. It quoted Dr Christine Ekechi, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Imperial College London: “People think of racism in an overt, aggressive way. But that’s not always what it is. It’s about biased assumptions - and we doctors have the same biases as anyone else.”
In the same article, Professor Gurch Randhawa argues that one of the main problems is the lack of inclusion of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in research.
It says: “Unless all ethnic communities are included in research, the medical profession will never be able to develop culturally competent diagnostic tests and services - and therefore can’t deliver true equity in healthcare”. There is still not an NHS target to end the disparity, a report published in December 2020 by the joint committee on human rights highlighted this. Death in childbirth isn’t the only issue at play here, black patients are under-treated for pain, that’s according to decades of research.
A study published in 2016 (not the first of its kind) shows that some white medical students think that black people feel less pain that white people. In a survey of 222 white medical students and residents, half had false beliefs about biological differences between black people and white people.
Of those who did they also thought black people felt less pain and were more likely to suggest inappropriate medical treatment for black patients – the paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Is the information getting to those who need it?
Not always - the information out there is so wide ranging that it can be very easy to get lost in trying to figure out what the right thing to do should be. Many people I’ve spoken to are having a hard time keeping up to date on any of it. Local councils are making it easier for people by going into their communities and talking to them about their fears as well as giving them the jab in their own homes.
Fear: Many people are just scared, there are a lot of stories going around. From what I have heard from the Pakistani and Bangladeshi community, some people have felt that they are already being targeted by Islamophobia and a hostile environment, so how can they trust what the government is saying. As I list all the reasons that people may not want to take the vaccine, it’s important to say that this shouldn’t stop them or be used as an excuse to not take the jab, just merely an insight into why people would be hesitant. There is a lot of outside factors at play here and people should not be punished or blamed because of it. As I’ve spent the last few months talking to endless medical professionals and in particular medical experts of colour. Those who have taken the jab and are encouraging their family to take it too. I am even more convinced that it is the right thing to do.
I went to an event in Oldham aimed at getting out the message that the vaccine is for everyone.
What should be done? There needs to be more targeted efforts at getting into disadvantaged communities to give people the right information that they need. Some local authorities are already doing this like Oldham Council and it really seems to be working. They have been training up local community leaders and Imam’s to equip them with all the information that they need to answer questions about the vaccines. Better relationships need to be built between the government and marginalised communities across the board, this is a big one and could definitely warrant an article all by itself so I won’t expand. There needs to be more legislation to hold social media sites to account and urge them to create better software to spot fake news. It’s a pandemic and many people are scared, lump that in with anxieties and historical issues. It creates a recipe for disaster. But if we all come together and support each other as we’ve been doing, things should work out.