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COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy amongst ethnic minority communities

Whilst the UK's rollout of its COVID-19 vaccination programme is going well, there remains hesitancy about vaccine take up amongst some people.

By Tia Bahia, BAME Affairs Correspondent

On 8 December 2020 the first Pfizer Coronavirus vaccine was administered, filling many people across the country with hope that the pandemic was finally moving towards a solution that would allow normality to resume. However, this medical development has also brought about anxiety, particularly amongst Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities within the UK.

Over 7.4 million people in the UK have now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, although vaccine hesitancy has proved common with more prevalence in areas of the country where the community is predominantly made up of BAME residents.

Current evidence shows that those from a BAME background have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. For example, the British Medical Association found that although only 21 per cent of all healthcare staff in the UK are from BAME groups, 63 per cent of the healthcare workers that have died as a result of COVID-19 were BAME.

A 2020 longitudinal study into vaccine hesitancy assessed the willingness of participants to take the vaccine; 84.4 per cent of white subjects were willing to accept, compared to 28.2 per cent of black subjects and 57.7 per cent of Pakistani or Bangladeshi subjects. It was found that the most popular reason for people wanting to decline the vaccine was worry surrounding the unknown future effects.

Within UoB, staff and eligible students have been offered the vaccine. Dr Kushala Abeysekera, an honorary lecturer at Bristol Medical School, was amongst those that accepted. He said ‘I was fortunate to have it in early January as an NHS doctor working on COVID wards. Bristol Royal Infirmary made it incredibly easy for all staff to get the vaccine.’

Dr Abeysekera acknowledges that his position as a doctor has ensured he appreciates the value of vaccines; he also contributed to the Oxford trial clinics and said he was ‘personally aware how rigorous the process was to get to a point of offering the population the vaccine.’

As a member of the Asian community, Dr Abeysekera described discussions he has had saying ‘The overwhelming majority of my colleagues from ethnic minorities that I speak to are queueing up for their vaccine along with everyone else. I should caveat that by saying the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire region has reportedly had one of the best vaccination campaigns in the country.’

Whilst this may be the case amongst medical professionals it remains that across the UK ethnic minorities are far less willing to accept the vaccine than their white counterparts. When asked his opinion on why this is the case, Dr. Abeysekera said: ‘It can’t be stressed enough, that there is a staggering amount of misinformation out there, including from anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers, and I think if you don’t have the skills to critically appraise information presented to you, you can be easily duped.’

He continued ‘There is misinformation related to specific groups, for example in East London, there is a strong social media campaign from NHS Barts Health to highlight to the large South Asian Muslim community that there are no porcine derivatives in the vaccine.’

Nihaal Aziz, a Bristol Dental student who has had the vaccine, also spoke of the South Asian community; he said: ‘They are rejecting the vaccine due to fake news and misinformation circulating on social media.’

Nihaal himself explained his experience with having the vaccine was good overall aside from some temporary illness the following day. When explaining how he felt prior to receiving the injection, he said ‘I was not anxious because in general I don’t have a problem with receiving vaccines and I have family members who had the vaccine before me and had no problems.’

Janet Wewe is Dental student of Nigerian decent who has not yet had the vaccine, when explaining why this is she said ‘One of the reasons I have not taken the vaccine is because my mother wants me to wait until it’s long term effects are more certain.’

Speaking to Epigram, Janet explained one factor she feels may have contributed to vaccine hesitancy in the black community; ‘I believe some French scientists wanted to carry out vaccine trials in Africa which some black people may have viewed in a negative light, feeling like they were being used as guinea pigs.’

The pandemic as a whole has brought to light inequalities that still exist in healthcare which have resulted in lack of trust within ethnic minority communities and the COVID-19 vaccine is clearly no exception to this. In February a video campaign was aired simultaneously by the main television broadcasters featuring a culturally diverse range of celebrities urging ethnic minority communities to take the vaccine.

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Dr Abeysekera spoke of the of measures such as this that can be used to change the attitudes of minority groups such as ‘Identifying respected members of ethnic minority communities that can champion the vaccination programme on social media, which I believe is happening.’

He added: ‘Perhaps also better support from GPs working in highly diverse areas to help with the vaccine drive would improve that. Simple things like having a vaccination centre in places that are trusted and easy to access like places of worship, are hugely valuable.’

Nihaal and Janet both agreed that education is the key and people need to be directed to credible sources of information and should be encouraged to conduct their own research in order to make an informed decision.

Featured Image: Flickr / Marco Verch

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