Low Covid vaccine uptake among minorities ‘sign of how much health officials need to do to win back trust’

Low Covid vaccine uptake among ethnic groups was completely predictable and it will take up to 15 years for health officials to win back the trust of those communities, a leading academic has said.

Although some improvements have been made, much more work has to be done so that low vaccine uptakes among ethnic minorities are a thing of the past, Winston Morgan, professor of toxicology, equity and inclusive practice at the University of East London, told i.

He said: “Low Covid vaccine uptake among ethnic minorities was very predictable based on people’s past experiences with the NHS and also because you know, historically, that there is low trust.

“Vaccines are one of those types of medicines that require the person who’s taking it to have a high level of trust. There was already low level of uptake [among ethnic minorities] for the flu vaccine.”

Vaccine uptake among ethnic minorities has been lower than average throughout the rollout. While around 90 per cent of white adult Britons aged 50 and above have received three doses, less than 50 per cent of black Britons of the same age have. Uptake among other ethnic minorities and those of mixed descent ranges from 50 per cent to 75 per cent.

Professor Morgan said the pandemic shone a spotlight on the fact many non-white communities do not engage with the NHS. Only when such low uptake among ethnic minorities became quickly apparent did anyone notice and try to do something about it, he argued. Although the NHS published a blueprint last year on how to deal with low uptake, Professor Morgan said it did not go far enough.

“The problem was not really understanding what the problem was. Once you understand the problem you can do something about it, but it’s not a short-term fix,” he said.

“To get trust in the system you need to see yourself being part of that system. People who didn’t take the vaccine, black communities for example, they know that they’re not involved in the medical profession at a senior level.

“You normally associate the NHS with a lot of black nurses, but they’re at a very junior level. And they too are suffering discrimination so how can they go home and recommend the system to their family and friends.”

Professor Morgan, who has been an expert on vaccine hesitancy by ethnic minority individuals through the pandemic and has done extensive research on the subject of racism in healthcare, spoke out after a survey revealed one in 10 people from ethnic minority groups who refused a vaccine Racial discrimination in a medical setting since the start of the pandemic.

He urged health leaders to implement more of the recommendations outlined in a Government-commissioned report published last March called Beyond the Data: Understanding the Impact of Covid-19 on Bame Communities.

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Professor Morgan said: “The authors made seven recommendations, all around getting black people more involved in the system at all levels and doing more research that’s relevant to those communities. That’s where the solution lies – getting more people involved who are trusted by those community groups who feel excluded.”

Professor Morgan said that the disproportionate amount of ethnic minority deaths within the NHS during the first wave of the pandemic on how the pandemic had an impact dealt with colleagues.

“I believe that the noise that was made as a result of the deaths during wave one changed practice. Just by people highlighting there is discrimination will make people change practice. And fewer black people died in the second wave, so I presume NHS staff received more equal treatment. I’m certain that was a factor.

“Covid coincided with Black Lives Matter and all those issues, so suddenly everyone wants to hear what, for example, people like me and others have to say. That’s where I’m slightly more optimistic, because people are taking inequality based on race more seriously in all areas.

“It’s happening at granular level, but all these things will take five, 10, 15 years to turn into real outcomes that patients will notice.”

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