In 2020, when the first wave of coronavirus ripped through Britain, the vulnerability of the Black Asian Minority and Ethnic (BAME) communities and their susceptibility to contract and die of coronavirus were highlighted in several independent reports. Many studies pointed at the existing institutional racism that have led to poor tackling of the pandemic, causing deaths.
But as 2021 begins and third lockdown cripples Britain, nothing out of the ordinary has been done to disseminate culturally tailored facts and information in the community. On top of that, misinformation, conspiracy theories and fake news are rife and absolutely no effort is being made by the government to combat them.
Readers told Asian Voice, how social media channels have been filled with fake news, some religiously targeted. While many elaborate on the ill-effects of the Covid jab including infertility, others spread rumours about meat and pork traces or mind controlling microchips in the Covid vaccines.
Satish D, speaking to Asian Voice said, “Recently 23 people died in Norway after taking the vaccine. How do I know I will not be one? Is this vaccine even safe?”
Dr Harpreet Sood, who is leading an NHS anti-disinformation drive, told the BBC it was "a big concern" and officials were working "to correct so much fake news". He said language and cultural barriers played a role in the false information.
'Structural and institutional racism and discrimination'
But in a recent report by SAGE, the Government's scientific advisory committee, reportedly blamed 'structural and institutional racism and discrimination' causing the vaccine scepticism among the BAME community.
Though the study, which was conducted in November 2020 with 12,000 respondents, found overall 82% of the population willingness to be vaccinated, 72% of Black population said they were unlikely or very unlikely to take the Covid jab.
The SAGE report concluded, “Trust is also undermined by structural and institutional racism and discrimination. Minority ethnic groups have historically been underrepresented within health research, including vaccines trials, which can influence trust in a particular vaccine being perceived as appropriate and safe, and concerns that immunisation research is not ethnically heterogenous.”
Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Eastern European groups also said they were unwilling to take the Covid jab and women, younger people and those with lower levels of education were also more hesitant than others.
Even among the medics, six in ten (58%) Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic psychiatrists have faced overt or covert racism at work, but only 29% of these incidents were reported according to new research from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. More than half (55%) say that reporting a racist incident resulted in no change. The data is based on a recent Royal College of Psychiatrists survey of 233 respondents from a BAME background across the UK. To tackle the problem the College is now calling for mandatory training that specifically covers the impact of unconscious bias on decision making and structural inequalities for all mental health staff.
BAME community needs more care
Speaking exclusively to Asian Voice, Dr Farzana Hussain, GP, Project Surgery, Newham said, “It is time to work out what the fears are within the community. There is one fear about how the vaccine was developed so quickly but then there are more specific fears like this vaccine would cause infertility. If we can educate people with evidence that BAME people were part of the vaccine trial or help with role modelling, showing trusted cases, through faith leaders and community groups, this will rebuild the trust and fight the fear among the community.”
When asked if enough is being done to get the message across the community better, she added, “Many BAME people are dying. The new variants are not protecting the BAME community. 25% more people are in hospital now than March 2020. BAME community should be made aware that they are more at risk than ever, they are more susceptible, and vaccine are our only hope. They do prevent serious complications and deaths.
“I am not political. But I believe, messaging about many things regarding Covid has come across a little bit confused and has added to the misinformation. I still have people telling me that Covid is just like a flu. There is still need for awareness about how dangerous Covid can be. Much more should be done whether at temples, mosques or through media advertising and engagement, because we know that BAME people are at higher risks.”
Trupti Patel, President of the Hindu Forum of Britain told Asian Voice, “We are doing everything to get the messaging right among the Hindu community about the importance of the Covid vaccine and removing any misinformation that they have. We are in touch with Nadhim Zahawi, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment. We have told him that we will work with local authorities (governments) where our temples are happy to let their premises for vaccination. As temples are already struggling, they need to provide adequate resources to make temples Covid safe and infrastructure to help the vaccination programme.”
Imams in mosques across the UK on Friday reassured worshippers about the safety and legitimacy of Covid-19 vaccinations and reminding them of the Islamic injunction to save lives.
Qari Asim, the chair of Minab and an imam in Leeds told The Guardian, “Scepticism is driven by two things. First, there are legitimate questions about whether the vaccines are halal, which we have looked into and both vaccines in use in the UK are perfectly permissible.
“Second are the rumours, myths, conspiracy theories and fake news, which we have debunked. Misinformation could cost lives and must be challenged.”
While community and religious organisations have their roles to play, people in different communities in the UK, often engage with the right information through their choice of media. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford collected data on how people navigated news and information during the coronavirus pandemic, fielded by YouGov. In one of the points highlighted in the findings of the survey in August said, “A majority (56%) [of people] say that the news media have helped them understand the pandemic, and 61% that the news media has helped explain what they can do in response to it…” Therefore, it is imperative government increases visibility of right messaging through media, especially among the BAME community.