Tory minister and Labour mayor reassure groups resisting inoculation

The minister in charge of vaccines, Nadhim Zahawi, and London mayor, Sadiq Khan, on Sundayunite united in a cross-party appeal to people from ethnic minority backgrounds to be vaccinated – amid concern that their reluctance could harm the national fight against Covid-19 and cost lives.

Recent polling by the Royal Society for Public Health found that 75% of UK adults would take a Covid jab if advised to by their GP or another health professional, but among respondents from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds the proportion fell to 57%.

Resistance to the vaccine in BAME communities is a particular worry because many studies have shown death rates from Covid-19 to be higher in most ethnic minority communities compared with white groups. A recent report by MPs on the women and equalities committee found one of the causes of the disparity to be “entrenched health inequalities”.

Some of the highest death and hospital admission rates during the pandemic have been in London, where 40% of the population are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The decision by the Tory minister and Labour mayor to make a joint appeal demonstrates how seriously they believe the issue of resistance to, and suspicion of, the Covid-19 vaccines could be for individuals and communities, and the national effort to get on top of the virus.

Nadhim Zahawi is a health minister and is responsible for the deployment of coronavirus vaccines.
Nadhim Zahawi is a health minister and is responsible for the deployment of coronavirus vaccines.

Writing jointly in the Observer, they emphasise how important it is to understand why people from BAME backgrounds may be reluctant to support the vaccination programme because of a wider mistrust of political leaders who have failed to do more for their communities. They say they will continue to work to address “these lower levels of trust that some from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds have in the institutions set up to represent them”.

But after a week in which the total number of UK deaths from Covid-19 passed 100,000 they say it is more vital than ever for those with doubts to seek reassurances from people with knowledge who they trust.

Sadiq Khan is the mayor of London.
Sadiq Khan is the mayor of London.

“People of black African ethnicity in England are over twice as likely to die from this virus than white people, according to the Office for National Statistics. The same is also true of south Asian people,” they write.

Greater efforts are being made both by the government and authorities in the capital to work with community leaders and local vaccine champions, to promote confidence in the innoculation programme. “We are both working with faith leaders, grassroots organisations representing our diverse communities and charities, and have listened to their ideas about how we can protect our communities from coronavirus and get vaccines to as many people as possible.”

Acknowledging the range of worries that people have expressed in BAME communities – from concerns about what goes into the vaccines and whether their faiths permit them to take it – the say the vaccine has been cleared by both medical experts and religious leaders.

“The medicines regulator, the MHRA, has confirmed there are no animal products in the vaccines and imams have declared them to be halal. In recent weeks we have seen the archbishop of Canterbury receive the vaccine and Pope Francis encouraging everyone to take it.”

According to the latest Opinium poll for the Observer on Sundaylevels of public approval of the government’s vaccine programme have shot up in the past fortnight. Some 60% now approve its handling of a national roll out – up from 47% a fortnight ago, while only 15% disapprove.

The biggest worry about the vaccine, concerning 60% of those polled, is that the virus will mutate making it ineffective, while 31% suspect public information isn’t trustworthy.

Overall, reluctance to take the vaccine is declining. Four in five (82%) would now get the vaccine when offered, up from 77% two weeks ago.