By Fennella Breaks and Selmira Mehmed
Health and local authority officials are re-doubling their efforts to encourage BAME communities in the Eastlondonlines areas to take up the vaccine as the nationwide rollout continues.
With high BAME communities in east London more hesitant at receiving the new vaccine than the majority of the UK population, ELL asked local health Clinical Commissioning Groups for updates on vaccine rollouts and what they were doing to address concerns from the BAME community.
Founder of AskAwayHealth an organisation which helps to provide clarity about health information to the public, Dr Sylvia Kama-Kieghe said: “If we do not quickly address vaccine hesitancy among the BAME community, it would worsen already poor health, social and economic outcomes in this community.”
Dr Kieghe a Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners, currently working in Sheffield, continued: “In my experience with the BAME community, Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy derives from three interconnected dynamics that arise from the deficit of trust… People in minority groups will happily seek help from health providers. However, when there are problems with information clarity (in this case respecting Covid-19), this easily creates doubts given the backdrop of history, and hesitancy.”
Tower Hamlets is one of three London boroughs where over half the adult population is from a BAME community. Since the vaccine first started in December to March 14, 57,466 people in Tower Hamlets have has the first dose of the vaccine out of a population of 324,745; the lowest uptake amongst ELL boroughs. The borough has had the worst vaccine uptake in the country with only 14 per cent of the borough being vaccinated by the start of this month.
Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group said they were working closely with the community to reduce vaccine hesitancy.
As ELL reported last month, in Whitchapel, at the East London Mosque, the biggest in London, a pop-up vaccination centre has been set up in a joint effort between local Muslim leaders and health officials to counter hesitancy among the local Islamic community.
Abdul Rahman, 36, an imam at the Mosque, told East London Lines: “It’s essential we play our part in the community to rise the number of vaccinations in our area, especially with BAME people. The current numbers….are just not good enough. We have been doing our best to promote the vaccines through our talks before and after prayers as well as posters displayed throughout our mosque.”
Many people have now taken up previously ignored earlier invitations for vaccinations. Hamza Mohammed, 61, a retired engineer, said the talks at the Mosque had convinced him to get his jab. “The talks here are really informative,” he said “I was able to get it done here as well which is only a five minute walk from my house, so happy days!”
Amirah, 36, who asked for her full name not to be used, said she was against vaccinations until listening to the talks at the Mosque. “For a long time, I have been against vaccinations and this last year has made me more sceptical than ever after being exposed to a lot of conspiracy theories on Facebook. Since the doors of the mosque had reopened and I learned more about the vaccinations from people I trust, my thoughts have done a complete 180degree turn.I’m waiting to get my vaccination done in the next couple of weeks.”
Kawsar Malik, 47, a teacher from Stepney Green, told East London Lines: “It’s so easy to be misinformed about the vaccines and just COVID in general from all the different stuff you consume on social media, even subconsciously. My dad who is 73 was invited to have his vaccination done a while ago but we were all pretty sceptical about it at that point as the vaccines were at the beginning stages of being rolled out,” Malik said.
“After these past few weeks, I’ve changed my stance on the vaccine. I will definitely try to convince my dad to get his vaccination done soon, and when I get the opportunity, I’ll be sure to get myself vaccinated as well.” Nozrul Ahmed
In Lewisham, 75,285 people have had the first dose of the vaccine since the roll out started last year, out of a population of 308,427. Just under 50 per cent of the Lewisham population are from the BAME community.
Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group said it has been working in partnership across communities within the borough to help everyone access the vaccine such as providing easy access and clear information on the vaccine.
A spokesman said: “In Lewisham, uptake of the vaccination is lower in the north of the borough – this includes areas such as New Cross and Deptford. A specific action plan has been developed to try and address this and improve uptake. This will be used as a model across the whole borough.”
The spokesman added: “Declining the vaccine is a behaviour, influenced by a number of factors including issues of confidence, complacency- they do not perceive a need for a vaccine, do not value the vaccine, and convenience…”
So far, 113,480 people in Croydon have had the first dose of the vaccine out of a population of 386,710. Just over 50 per cent of Croydon’s population is from the BAME community.
South West Clinical Commissioning Group– which includes Croydon, are engaging with local communities to provide the chance for the community to ask local experts about the vaccine. Since January, the borough has held over forty vaccine focussed events to help clarify any concerns the community may have.
The Asian Resource Centre an organisation that brings together Asian Communities and Croydon BME Forum held an online forum earlier this month to help people overcome vaccine fears.
Croydon Council and Clinical Commissioning Group did not respond to ELL requests to comment on the vaccine uptake.
In Hackney, 58,297 people have had their first dose of the vaccination up to March 14; out of a population of 281,100. Like other East London boroughs, Hackney is one of the most diverse London boroughs with a 45 per cent BAME population.
A spokesperson from Hackney Council said: “The Council, the NHS and local community organisations are working really hard to ensure people from all backgrounds feel confident to take the vaccine when it is offered to them.”
Although according to NHS data, 40 per cent of Hackney’s Black & Black British residents are unsure about getting the vaccine and 18 per cent will definitely not get it, there has been a significant rise in vaccination uptake since the past month.
Some of the vaccination centres such as St John Scott’s Vaccination Centre who had to restrict their opening hours early in the month due to lack of appointments are now operating at full capacity seven days a week.
Hackney council along with the NHS and local community organisations are doing a number of things to increase vaccine uptake. The council has distributed posters across the borough using local GPs, sent multilingual booklets with information about the vaccine as well as publications with Hackney Life and Hackney today to all households.
Dr Kama-Kieghe said councils needed to increase communication to increase vaccine uptakes. “The local and central government and communities should intensify public health communication in partnership with television, radio, social media and other communication platforms, to address misinformation regarding Covid-19 vaccines… to build trust and confidence in the public and the BAME communities in particular.”