Why less vaccine uptake among ethnic minorities?

March 18, 2021

Collage by Exposure with flag image by Comfreak and vaccine image by Wilfried Pohnke from Pixabay

With certain communities reluctant to take the jab, Arjan Arenas injects some clarity

After a year of drastic changes to life as we know it, finally, there appears to be a visible endpoint to the pandemic. The government announced a long-awaited and highly publicised roadmap out of lockdown, beginning with the opening of schools, and – assuming all goes according to plan and infection rates continue to decline – culminating in the lifting of all remaining restrictions on 21 June.

This is especially reassuring given the immense impact lockdown has had on our mental health, particularly that of young people.

It seems, then, that there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic for the short term, given that over the past month, we’ve not only seen a consistent fall in infection rates, but also the highly successful rollout of vaccines across the country. However, a new concern has arisen. Although many millions of people in the UK have had their first vaccination, according to numerous statistics, uptake has been considerably lower among people from ethnic minorities.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), of the 15% of the individuals surveyed who stated they would not take the vaccine if offered or were unsure as to whether they would take it, a large proportion were ethnic minorities. Additionally, research by the BMJ published last month found that of a sample of hospital staff, 71% of white staff members had taken the vaccine, compared with only 59% of the staff from South Asian backgrounds, and only 37% of black staff.

A number of black and South Asian celebrities have appeared in a video dispelling myths about the vaccine

This is a grave concern, given that a study by the ONS last year found that black people were four times more likely than white people to die from Covid-19. The government have tried to encourage more people from ethnic minorities to take up the vaccination, and a number of black and South Asian celebrities have appeared in a video dispelling myths about the vaccine and mentioning that they or members of their families had already had theirs.

So why have fewer people from ethnic minorities had the vaccine? Perhaps the most common explanation has been that misinformation about the vaccine, which includes claims that it implants a chip into people, or that it contains animal products (which would of course deter religious vegetarians and Muslims who wouldn’t want to inject non-halal meat).

But this doesn’t make sense – why would ethnic minorities be more susceptible to vaccine scepticism than white people? Conspiracy theories have been proven to be discouraging people of European and all backgrounds from taking the vaccine, with studies showing that people in Europe have become more likely to believe them during the pandemic.

Another supposed reason why uptake remains lower than average is because ethnic minorities are reportedly concerned that they are essentially being used as human guinea pigs for a vaccine that has had comparatively less tests. But again, why would ethnic minorities be uniquely worried about this?

The most comprehensive information about the vaccine might be more difficult to access for some, especially the oldest generations of ethnic minorities

A more plausible explanation might be that lack of communication with regards to the availability of the vaccine and who is being prioritised is leading to fewer ethnic minorities being vaccinated.

The most comprehensive information about the vaccine might be more difficult to access for some, especially the oldest generations of ethnic minorities, whose first language isn’t English and who might not be able to access information online as easily.

Additionally, although ethnic minorities were from the start listed among priority groups for the vaccine more likely to be hospitalised, maybe many of them are simply being overlooked when it comes to being offered the vaccine in practice.

With this in mind, there’s plenty young people from ethnic minority backgrounds can do to persuade older relatives – not up to speed or have doubts – to take the vaccine.

If your grandparents are worried about the vaccine or aren’t entirely sure about it, fill them in or show them where they can find the most up-to-date information on it and how to access it. The sooner enough people are vaccinated, the sooner business as usual can resume – and the sooner that happens, the better.

Arjan Arenas studied history at King’s College London, then completed a master’s in the history of international relations at the London School of Economics. He has worked with Exposure since January 2018, and is particularly interested in history and politics, as well as books, film and television. Outside of his work with Exposure, Arjan has written reviews of films and television programmes, as well as theatre productions in London’s West End.

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