Extremist fears over vaccine myths

By Dan Peters | 02 February 2021

Far-right extremists are feared to be behind the circulation of coronavirus vaccine myths on social media, a director of public health has warned.

Writing for The MJ this week, director of public health at Birmingham City Council, Dr Justin Varney, suggested extremists could be trying to ‘manipulate’ ethnic minority communities into refusing the vaccine to ‘drive up death rates’.

Dr Varney said such a development would be a ‘truly sickening twist’.

Take up from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff and communities is expected to be a big issue, with 72% of black people in the UK hesitant about taking the COVID-19 jab, according to a recent polling study.

Dr Varney’s comments came as NHS England finally agreed to sharing core vaccination data with directors of public health, which includes breakdowns by age and ethnicity.

President of the Association of Directors of Public Health, Jeanelle de Gruchy, said her organisation had been highlighting the ‘critical need to do this consistently’ as the NHS-led vaccination program was developed.

One source said: ‘Vaccine hesitancy is still huge.

'The problem that we have at the minute is everyone is desperate for a vaccine.

'Once these individuals have had the vaccination we will face the barrier of those who are hesitant or don’t want a vaccine.’

Waltham Forest LBC leader, Cllr Clare Coghill, said: 'I am concerned by research showing that the potential take-up of vaccinations against COVID-19 is lower among some groups, particularly the Black and South Asian communities.

'These groups have been disproportionately impacted by the virus already and we need to do more to keep them safe.

'We understand that trust is an issue, which is why local authorities and our health partners are better placed than central government to challenge perceptions as research shows trust is higher.'

In a blog last week, Clenton Farquharson, a coach on inclusion and equality, said leaders should listen to the concerns of minority communities.

He wrote: ‘By making time for community engagement we can build trust among BAME communities and this would be a start to raising the number of black people taking the vaccine.’

More than £23m has been allocated to 60 councils to encourage high-risk groups to have the COVID-19 vaccination.

Ministers have told English local authorities to develop a tailored communications plan that ‘fosters and maintains a high level of vaccine confidence in the general public and increases confidence among the vaccine hesitant’.

Dr Justin Varney looks at how Birmingham is working to tackle the ‘layers upon layers of mistrust’ among ethnic minority communities that is ‘now playing out in vaccine hesitancy’

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