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Vaccine hesitancy amongst UK’s South Asian diaspora a worry

Vaccine hesitancy amongst UK’s South Asian diaspora a worryLONDON: Vaccine hesitancy amongst the South Asian diaspora in Britain could delay the end of the pandemic as a high uptake is needed amongst all communities to achieve herd immunity.

President of BAPIO (British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin) Dr Ramesh Mehta said, “There is hesitation amongst a significant number of BAME groups in the UK for vaccination. We believe there is fake news circulating on social media.”

He said the key concerns British Asians have are about unknown side effects, especially in the long-term, and rumours the vaccines contain animal products, such as beef or pork.

UK vaccines regulator MHRA has confirmed both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines do not contain any components of animal origin.

News of 29 elderly people with underlying health conditions dying in Norway after receiving the Pfizer’s vaccine “has not helped” Mehta said. A small number of Indian-origin NHS doctors were even “sceptical” about the vaccine, he added.

Mehta said one of the problems was that information from the NHS and Department of Health was not being communicated in local languages. “BAPIO is committed to supporting the vaccines,” he said. “We are holding webinars with communities and advising them to get the shot. If a large number refuse it will delay the end of the pandemic and they will be much worse off if they catch Covid-19,” he said.

Rajnish Kashyap, general Secretary of the Hindu Council UK, met the minister for Covid vaccine deployment, Nadhim Zahawi, last week to discuss the issue. “We pointed out to him that there is lot of hesitancy within the Indian-origin community because of fake news on social media and worries about long-term side effects. We have carried out a survey finding that 56% of British Indians would take the Covid-19 vaccine and 31% were unsure. We have offered Hindu temples to be utilised for giving the vaccine,” he said.

General practitioners (GPs) are reporting that some South Asian patients are refusing the vaccine or agreeing to take it and then not turning up for appointments.

A recent poll, commissioned by the Royal Society for Public Health, found that whilst 79% of white respondents would take a Covid-19 vaccine, only 57% of BAME people would be happy to have the coronavirus vaccine, despite being the groups hardest hit by Covid-19. The report found the lowest willingness to be vaccinated is in Asian respondents.

“It is estimated that we need a coverage rate of between 75% and 90% to achieve herd immunity from Covid-19, depending on the efficacy of each vaccine and the duration of immunity,” the report states. “Herd immunity is community-specific, and we must ensure there are no pockets of the country where coverage rates are allowed to fall below what is required.”

At much as 19% of BAME respondents said they would trust the view of someone on social media delivering information about the Covid-19 vaccine compared to 17% who would trust politicians. Amongst Asian respondents, the opinions of friends and family were more widely trusted (63%) than those of a nurse (59%) and local pharmacist (55%), and were ranked equally with that of a GP.

NHS England’s Dr Harpreet Sood said, “We have been working to battle misinformation in multiple ways, including by working with social media companies and engaging directly with communities, but it’s also important that we celebrate that large numbers of these diverse communities have taken up the vaccine.”

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