Governments are already plan who will get the Covid-19 vaccine first, giving priority to the elderly and vulnerable.
These plans should not assume that everyone who can receive the vaccine will be willing to receive it. There is already a lot of skepticism, resistance and outright hostility to vaccination, especially in minority communities.
It’s much more than the ‘anti-vax’ movement that has recently been associated with the far right in the United States, or, where I live, the largely white anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine protesters. who regularly marched all over England.
I am part of the Novavax vaccine management group trial at the Bradford Royal Infirmary, one of six vaccines pre-ordered by the UK government, and the first such test anywhere in the world. Bradford is one of the most ethnically diverse parts of Britain; more than a third of the city is non-white British. A quarter of Bradford’s residents are Pakistani.
Ethnic minorities were ten times less likely than the general population to participate in the vaccine trial: they represent 36 percent of the population, but only 3 percent of trial participants.
Many factors that make them more susceptible to Covid also make them more likely to refuse a vaccine.
The common thread is lack of access and mistrust of official government communication. In MarchI called for all official Covid information websites to be available in multiple languages. Eight months later, some governments still communicate only in the official languages. This immediately excludes many older first generation immigrants – precisely the demographic group most at risk. In Bradford, Pakistani and Kashmiri immigrants who speak Urdu and local Kashmiri languages like Potwari are largely ignored.
We must also move away from top-down, almost dictatorial communications. These pressers (along with an aggressive social media strategy) have been an audience success and invaluable in providing a unique and authoritative source of information. But what about communities that don’t watch mainstream channels or actively use social media?
Minorities also already have poorer health outcomes than the general population. When many minorities feel stranded by health services (although their own communities are over-represented in the provision of health care and care), trust is naturally lower.
Added to this is the fact that many minorities already felt alienated by government policies. The ever closer alliance between health experts and political leaders risks spoiling the former with distrust directed towards the latter.
African Americans are more than Three times more likely to be killed in an encounter with the police, as are black Britons forty more likely to be arrested and searched by police. Many Latin American communities live in constant fear of ICE law enforcement teams. Muslims on both sides of the Atlantic have complained about overzealous profiling and counter-extremism programs like the Prevent strategy. If you are not white, these policies will inevitably color your feelings about an officially approved vaccine.
This is a (perhaps unintended) consequence of the politicization of health authorities. Epidemiologists like Anthony Fauci or Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, may think they can stand on the podium next to the President or the Prime Minister and still claim to be impartial scientists. Optics are important, and in some quarters, health authorities are now as wary as the governments that fund them.
This created real resistance in some communities to vaccines. When the Bradford Novavax trial sent representatives to the local mosque to advocate for minority participants, they were politely greeted, but it did not increase turnout.
What minority communities need is to receive this message about vaccine safety from those they identify with and trust in their own communities. Instead of top-down communication from health authorities and medical teachers, we need horizontal encouragement: parents, friends, restaurant waiter, taxi driver who takes you to school, they should all be you. to encourage. Basically, we need respected and trusted personalities in the community to advocate. Religious leadership is also essential. Mosque leaders and spiritual authorities should take the vaccine publicly.