Actors Adil Ray and Meera Syal, cricketer Moeen Ali and comedian Romesh Ranganathan are among celebrities who have joined forces to counter coronavirus vaccine misinformation in ethnic minority communities as a race equality thinktank called for greater government action on the issue.
The rate of Covid infections and deaths among minorities has been disproportionately high compared with the white British population but polls have suggested they are less likely to take the vaccine, with concerns raised they are being targeted by campaigners spreading anti-vaccine propaganda.
The Citizen Khan creator and star Ray, who helped to organise a video launched on Monday to counter vaccine myths, said: “Unfortunately we are now fighting another pandemic – misinformation – where communities who are ignored are preyed upon and voices that endanger lives are amplified.
“Whilst these communities must accept some responsibility too, and take the vaccine to save lives, we all must do what we can and come together to fight this deadly virus. We hope this video can help dispel some of the myths and offer some encouragement for everyone to take the vaccine.”
The Runnymede Trust also released a video on Monday urging people to take the vaccine, including contributions from the chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, Imam Mohammed Mahmoud of East London mosque, and Bishop Rose Hudson-Wilkin. The thinktank also urged the government to prioritise ethnic minorities “who are living under circumstances with higher infection risks and whose elderly are dying at dire rates”.
It says the government should prioritise the rollout of vaccines to black and minority (BME) communities in dense urban areas “where the need is greatest” and work with BME community leaders to address misinformation and boost confidence in the vaccine. Last week, figures from NHS England showed London had the lowest number of people – 388,437 – who had received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine. The capital has the UK’s highest BME population and one of the highest proportions of ethnic minorities.
The greater reluctance of people from ethnic minority communities has been ascribed to various factors including poorer engagement with the health service historically, lack of trust, and exploitation of religious concerns through claims the vaccine contains pork or alcohol, is not halal or alters DNA.
The video – which also features actors Sanjeev Bhaskar, Asim Chaudhry and Nina Wadia, presenter Konnie Huq, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the former Tory party chair Sayeeda Warsi – debunks those falsehoods and others.
Abdullah Afzal, an actor and comedian who co-stars with Ray in Citizen Khan, says in the video: “In fact, the scientists who developed the most widely used [Pfizer] vaccine are Muslim, Prof Uğur Şahin and his scientist wife, Özlem Türeci, from Turkey.” The Bollywood star Boman Irani highlights that India is a leading country in vaccine manufacturing and people are urged to speak to their doctor if they have any misgivings.
Many in the video reveal details of relatives who have already received the vaccine. Shobna Gulati, who appeared for many years in Coronation Street and in the sitcom Dinnerladies, says: “We will find our way through this, and be united once again with our friends and our families. All we have to do is take the vaccination. My sister’s had the vaccine and I’m really looking forward to when it’s my turn.”
The Runnymede Trust said the lack of trust surrounding the vaccine among BME groups was partly because of hostile environment policies, adding: “The vaccine finally provides a way out of this dire situation and a way of protecting those who need it most. There must be immediate action to localise resources to the most in need areas. These are densely populated urbanised areas with large numbers of BME citizens.”
Nadhim Zahawi, the minister for Covid vaccine deployment, said: “We want every eligible person to benefit from a free vaccine, regardless of their ethnicity or religious beliefs.
“The Department of Health and the NHS are working closely with Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities to support those eligible for a vaccine and all those who have questions about Covid-19 vaccines.
“As part of this we’re working with faith and community leaders to give them advice and information about the benefits of vaccination and how their communities can get a jab.”