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Experts accuse government of ‘abandoning' ethnic minorities during pandemic

According to the ONS, the latest statistic for reluctance among Black or Black British adults is 21%, compared to 4% for white persons. Credits: PA

During the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of specialists and equality organizations have accused the government of failing to safeguard high-risk ethnic minority populations, while vaccine reluctance continues to rise among some of these communities.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the latest statistic for reluctance among Black or Black British adults is 21%, up from 4% previously, while it remains at 4% among white individuals.

Adults who identify as Muslim (14%), or “other” (14%), have more reservations than adults who identify as Christian (4 per cent).

Mistrust in Government and healthcare systems have been cited as key reasons for hesitancy while a recent study by University College London University College London suggested the importance of addressing racial discrimination more broadly in order to increase vaccine uptake amongst ethnic minority adults.

According to the most recent data from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre, persons from these areas now account for the largest number of intensive care patients since the epidemic began, while Covid safety precautions were repealed by the government last month.

Despite considerable research identifying the concerns, Dr Zubaida Haque, a member of Independent SAGE, told The Independent that ministers had done little to minimize the hazards faced by patients.

“It's almost a quadruple whammy - minority ethnic communities are more overexposed due to their circumstances, less protected in that they're less likely to take up the vaccine because their fears and concerns aren't adequately addressed, and then we've got higher infection rates and few mitigations,” she explained.

“So, this is a perfect storm of variables that will make things much worse for these people - and I am afraid for them. We're approaching autumn and winter, when we predict an increase in cases because more people will be inside.”

“It is evident that it has a mass infection strategy,” she said, “but it is just so dangerous because it would undermine the only thing we have to bring us out of this pandemic: the vaccination program.”

“The vulnerable are more exposed than they've ever been in this pandemic, and they've been abandoned,” the former Runnymede director remarked. Ethnic minorities are included in this. But, rather than learning from all that has transpired in the previous year and a half, the government has gone the opposite direction, abandoning those communities.”

Dr. Haque encouraged the government to reduce community instances as well as reestablish scientifically proven public health protection measures such as face masks, physical separation, and contact tracing.

Soloman Campbell, 40, of Manchester, cited mistrust of government, concerns about long-standing disparities in the health system, and a desire to find a solution in his Christian religion as reasons for refusing the covid vaccine.

“Throughout my life, the British Government has never prioritized the well-being of Black people as a pandemic of racism plagued the lives of my people, but now I'm supposed to think that it has my best interests at heart, as a Black man? “I'm having trouble with that,” he admitted.

“I have no desire to be a guinea pig. I'm not saying I'll never take the vaccination, but for the time being, I'd rather put my faith in God, who has complete authority over my life, and wait to see how this roll-out plays out.”

“Not enough information has been shared with me, and people who look like me, about this vaccination, how it works, and how safe it is,” Beverley Watson, 60, from south London, said. I read somewhere that celebrities are urging uptake, but no one has come to talk to me about it, and there hasn't been a concerted attempt to spread the word; in the meantime, I'm not going to get the injection, which contains God knows what, just because Boris said so! If I pass out, he won't be able to help me.”

“The Government has to facilitate more community involvement, but it also needs to fundamentally address the reasons why so many of us lack trust in the authorities,” Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director at The Equality Trust, told The Independent, echoing these concerns. We will continue to see low take-up till this is addressed.

“The structural disparities that see many people living in substandard and overcrowded housing, working in low-wage, precarious public-facing occupations, and suffering from a variety of underlying health issues make protecting against Covid-19 a top priority.”

“The amazing vaccine rollout is establishing a wall of defense across the country, with nearly nine out of ten people aged 16 and over in the UK having got one dose and over 105,000 lives and 143,000 hospitalizations prevented,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care stated.

“The government and the NHS are working hard to encourage individuals from all walks of life to take up the offer of a vaccination. We've set up pop-up vaccination clinics in mosques, translated vaccine literature into 13 languages, and collaborated with local governments, faith groups, and celebrities to spread the word about the need of immunization.”

However, it has been suggested that the fact that some groups' reticence has not changed significantly indicates ministers' failure to adequately address the issue.

“Vaccine hesitancy is frequently treated in a piecemeal, ad-hoc manner, where it is not connected up or part of a larger strategy that addresses the issue,” Dr. Haque added.

“And it's not only a Black, Asian, or Eastern European problem; it's also a problem in impoverished areas, among women, and among younger people. As a result, the fact that we don't have a national strategy to deal with reluctance is completely insufficient.”

Meanwhile, some local activists are taking matters into their own hands, launching programs across the country to assuage the anxieties of the doubtful.

Pop-up vaccination clinics have been set up at places like Brixton's Black Cultural Archives, Streatham's South London Islamic Centre, and Stockport's St Petersgate fountain.


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