England’s top GP is set to announce a series of measures healthcare workers will use to target communities most at-risk from coronavirus as she launches NHS England’s blueprint for tackling BAME vaccine hesitancy.
Dr Nikki Kanani, Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England, said doctors are having to fight “dual epidemics” with disinformation around Covid continuing to hamper efforts to improve vaccine uptake rates among black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. The renewed drive comes as latest data published on Thursday is expected to show a substantial gap remains between people of white ethnicity and non-white groups.
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Going into the communities
Measures in the blueprint include healthcare workers and volunteers going out into their communities to talk directly to people addressing any concerns, while faith groups are working with their local health services to host virtual events to reassure and respond.
Information will be tailored to specific communities, translated into 20 languages, and reminding people that no animal products are used in the vaccine – one of the key concerns many people with some religious backgrounds have had. The NHS will also work with social media firms and the Government to report inaccurate and harmful content and stop the flow of misleading content at source.
‘Fighting dual epidemics’
Writing in i Dr Kanani, who is also a GP in south east London, says: “As we reach the next stage of the biggest vaccination programme in NHS history, we are faced with fighting dual epidemics: Covid and disinformation, particularly around the vaccine.
“With more than 13 million people in England choosing to get their vaccine already, we must continue to encourage and persuade people who remain unsure, that getting this protection is vital.
“We must keep spreading the word to those next in line that this vaccine is safe and effective for all, regardless of ethnicity, race, religion or background. Scare stories and myths online cost lives. And that’s why the NHS is doing our bit to fight back.
“This once in a lifetime vaccination programme will only achieve its fullest success if all of us adopt a zero tolerance approach to disinformation, and a constructive, reassuring voice to those who have concerns.”
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has said BAME people are up to two-and-a-half-times more likely to die than their white peers, even when age, underlying health conditions and other factors have been considered.
Yet, latest official weekly figures show more than nine million first and second doses were given to white people in England up to February 7, covering 18.4 per cent of that population, just 175,053 black people (8.7 per cent) had the vaccine. People from Asian and mixed ethnicity backgrounds are also less likely to have been vaccinated, with 11.2 per cent and 7.7 per cent of those groups receiving a jab respectively up to February 7.
Covid-19 could remain a threat
Among the over-80s, white people are six times more likely to have received a vaccine than black people in the same age group, according to research by academics at University of Oxford and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. The Royal College of GPs has warned that vaccine hesitancy among BAME communities could create “swathes across the country” where Covid-19 will continue to remain a threat unnecessarily.
Health officials were also alarmed this week to see low uptake of the vaccine among NHS BAME staff. Analysis at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust found that 71 per cent of white staff had received the jab, compared with 59 per cent of South Asian staff and 37 per cent of black staff.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has said the Government was contending with a “tsunami of misinformation” with posts circulating on social media claiming the vaccine interfered with fertility.
He will attend an event at the Science Museum next week alongside US top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci and UK academics discussing why, despite immunisation being the world’s strongest weapon against Covid-19, rising numbers of people are refusing vaccinations for themselves and their children based on uncertainty or on misinformation.