Most of the reluctant are not brash anti-vaxxers, but are hesitant because they feel unsafe and mistrustful
This much we know: people of black and South Asian ethnic background have a greater risk of death from Covid-19 than white people. According to Ben Humberstone, the deputy director of the health and life events division at the Office for National Statistics, the differences are not driven by pre-existing health conditions but “demographic, geographical and socioeconomic factors, such as where you live or the occupation you’re in”.
We have incontrovertible evidence, too, of disproportionate mortality and morbidity amongst black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) NHS staff who have contracted Covid-19.
And yet, a study published by The Royal Society for Public Health in December found that while 79 per cent of white Britons would have the vaccine, only 57 per cent of black, Asian and other minorities said they would.
What are they thinking? I’ve spoken to scores of black and Asian people over these agonising months. They are as anxious and panicky as white Britons with the number of deaths now over 100,000 and infections multiplying.
A 40-year-old Nigerian bus driver recovering from Covid is beside himself: “To say no to vaccinations at this time? Do they know how much patients suffer? Do they want to die? Life is too beautiful for that. They will kill people and we will be blamed by them racists.” His anger is understandable, but we need to know why so many are loathe to take the jab.
Laura Spinney, author of Pale Rider, a book on the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, writes in The Guardian that the reasons for hesitance are “diverse, complex and exquisitely sensitive to social and political context”. And history too. During the era of European colonial rule, the subjugated were used as medical guinea pigs and, notes Spinney: “There are grisly accounts of… medically vulnerable populations being forcibly given experimental concoctions.”
Unethical medical bias persists today. Last April, Jean-Paul Mira, head of intensive care at Cochin Hospital in Paris, made this suggestion on TV: “Shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation? A bit like as it is done elsewhere for some studies on Aids. In prostitutes, we try things because we know that they are highly exposed and that they do not protect themselves.”
Several black doctors have told me that too many people of colour have negative experiences when they use the NHS, even though a vast proportion of staff are of migrant heritage. One of them, a heart specialist, puts it down to “the culture”, and says: “Race discrimination is everywhere in society, so why not the NHS?”
Most of the reluctant are not brash anti-vaxxers or conspiracy nutcases. They are hesitant because they feel unsafe and mistrustful. Manipulators sniff their insecurities. On social media these influencers project themselves as savvy and cognizant and claim they can reach and reveal deep truths and plots.
Facebook and WhatsApp buzz with their stuff. “The vaccine has pig and beef extracts and alcohol” – not true. “It affects fertility, it is a racist programme” – wrong again. “The vaccines have not been tested properly” – provably false. It is pernicious gossip, amplified. Religious and traditional Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Orthodox Jews and Catholics get caught up in the noise and turn away from the medical establishment. For the vulnerable, Covid liars are superheroes. The perils of that are obvious.
But while the Government dithers, devoid of effective responses or solutions, minorities are doing it for themselves.
On Monday a group of Asian and black luminaries launched a video to encourage greater vaccination take up. Organised by the presenter, actor and writer Adil Ray, it features Meera Syal, Sadiq Khan, cricketer Moeen Ali, journalist Rageh Omaar, actor Colin Salmon and others. They talk respectfully, urge compliance and gently refute the swirling misinformation.
Kawsar Zaman is a busy barrister. His mum – at high risk from Covid-19 – didn’t want to be vaccinated. She understands but doesn’t speak English. He tried to find reliable official information online to persuade her. Successive governments since 2010 have defunded multilingual public information. So, with other diverse folk, he’s just set up takethecovid19vaccine.com. On this brilliant website people seeking Covid facts can find trusted advisors who can communicate key messages in various languages. They already have global reach.
Many priests and imams are using their positions to change minds and hearts in their congregations. Some have turned places of worship into jab centres. I have often decried the obscurantism of faith leaders. But the way they have stepped up in this time of corona has been awesome. Much respect.
I hope this collective effort pays off. As the bus driver said to me, take the vaccine and live, because life is beautiful.
These are the personal views of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
The full article can be found here:
While the Government dithers, minorities are promoting Covid-19 vaccines in their own communities (inews.co.uk)