Leeds BAME communities 'need to be able to make informed choice' on Covid jabs

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Deeply entrenched inequalities that have blighted some Leeds communities for years are contributing towards low uptake of coronavirus vaccinations, health organisations have warned.

Just as it became apparent last year that a disproportionate number of people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups were dying after contracting Covid-19, concerns are now emerging that some of those same groups are also less likely to accept the offer of being vaccinated against the virus.

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Heather Nelson, chief executive of the Leeds-based Black Health Initiative and a member of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, said: "All the pandemic has done is highlight the health disparity which ourselves and many other third sector organisations have been trying to talk about for decades.

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Heather Nelson, chief executive of the Leeds-based Black Health Initiative and a member of the NHS Race and Health Observatory. Picture: Tony JohnsonHeather Nelson, chief executive of the Leeds-based Black Health Initiative and a member of the NHS Race and Health Observatory. Picture: Tony Johnson
Heather Nelson, chief executive of the Leeds-based Black Health Initiative and a member of the NHS Race and Health Observatory. Picture: Tony Johnson

"We're saying to all those who commission services that they can't use the same toolkit for outreach for all communities.

"In our opinion, you've got to recognise the historical medical impact in regards to the black communities - and I say communities because we have the African continent, the Caribbean island and the black British and how this influences decisions made.

"What we're hearing from the communities we're talking with is the disparity for certain communities has always been there, so why is it with this new pandemic they're really concerned?"

Such disparities have been the focus of a number of special reports by the Yorkshire Evening Post since its A City Divided campaign was launched in 2019 to highlight the growing gulf of inequality across Leeds.

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Coun Rebecca Charlwood, Leeds City Council's executive member for health, wellbeing and adults. Picture: James HardistyCoun Rebecca Charlwood, Leeds City Council's executive member for health, wellbeing and adults. Picture: James Hardisty
Coun Rebecca Charlwood, Leeds City Council's executive member for health, wellbeing and adults. Picture: James Hardisty

And low levels of vaccination uptake are just one of the concerns emerging around the national coronavirus vaccination programme as the YEP continues its A Shot in the Arm campaign.

Run alongside sister titles across JPIMedia, it urges Prime Minister Boris Johnson to deploy the country’s network of 11,000 pharmacies to ensure that every citizen is only a short walk away from a vaccination centre.

Our campaign also requests further reassurance for local communities from the Government and more easy-to-access information on the vaccine programme and its progress.

Nahid Rasool, chief executive of the Shantona Women's Centre in Harehills, said mixed messages from the Government had been an issue throughout the pandemic, as well as misinformation that is spread initially online but then through communities.

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"They get half the information and then it gets distorted," she said. "A lot of people don't do research, they just hear people."

She said it was extremely important that organisations such as theirs who are on the frontline and trusted within communities had access to reliable information that could be shared to tackle myths around the Covid-19 vaccinations.

She added: "Enforcement isn't going to help - it doesn't work. In Harehills, when we started out work, we realised people didn't understand what to do, to wear masks, not socialising, the bubbles. We've been talking to them and it's done real good."

Ms Nelson agreed that being able to access information from trusted sources and ask questions of them directly was vital to ensuring everyone was able to make an informed choice.

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"What we need is a dialogue with various mechanisms," she said. "Use the community radio stations, have a Q&A event, use Zooms. Of course the establishment organisations have their own social media, but those people you're trying to reach probably won't follow them.

"BHI is here to be the contact and also provide the information to help people make factual choices. We know it's not mandatory to take the vaccination but what we're saying is if factual information is being put out in the way people will receive it, then people have the information so they can make an informed choice."

While the Government is providing daily figures at a national level and NHS England provides them at a regional level, there is no regular publication of local authority level statistics.

Leeds City Council said on January 9 that the number of people have been given their first dose was due to pass 40,000 by the end of that week - equivalent to around five per cent of the city's total population.

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And provisional NHS England data to January 17 showed 68,120 people aged 80 or over in Leeds and other areas served by the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Healthcare Partnership had received their first dose. According to Office for National Statistics population estimates, that number represents 63.6 per cent of that priority age group.

Earlier this week, calls were made for daily figures to also be made available on the rollout of coronavirus vaccines to BAME communities.

The Labour Party said people from BAME backgrounds have been hardest hit by the pandemic and must not be "left behind" as the vaccination programme progresses.

Mrs Rasool said family members of two of the charity's staff had died after contracting Covid-19, adding: "Inequality is a huge issue for us. People are faced with so much inequality and have been really badly hit."

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A document released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies found "marked difference existed by ethnicity, with black ethnic groups the most likely to be Covid-19 vaccine hesitant, followed by Pakistani/Bangladeshi groups".

The undated report, released earlier this month, cited research showing 72 per cent of black or black British groups and 42 per cent of Pakistani/Bangladeshi groups said they were unlikely or very unlikely to get a coronavirus vaccine, compared to 18 per cent of all participants.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has also expressed concern that the take-up of the jab may be lower in BAME communities, adding that the was working with local mayors and councils to get through to "hard-to-reach groups".

Coun Rebecca Charlwood, the council's executive member for health, wellbeing and adults, said: "We have been talking at length to people across Leeds, and lots of people have been supporting the vaccine effort.

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"We’ve had imams, community leaders, local GPs from BAME communities and local councillors leading the effort in some areas and are talking to a lot of different groups, for example Age UK and the Sikh elders this week. We have also translated all of our communications into a number of different languages.

"Our intention is to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible, in line with the national priority groups. However this is dependent on vaccine supply. We are working hard to ensure the West Yorkshire region gets the supplies we have been promised by government."

She said individuals would be contacted by the NHS when it was their turn, adding: "Please have your vaccine when you are asked. It is one of the best chances we have of protecting you and ultimately saving lives."

For organisations with well-established links in the city and a history of advocating for those with lesser access to health services, the focus is very much on taking practical steps such as the planned online meeting being hosted by BHI to give people the chance to put questions directly to GPs and other experts.

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Ms Nelson said: "There's information out that's saying one thing, then something else that's contradicting it. How can you differentiate between facts and fake news? Having the Zoom discussions should help with this.

"We have cultural beliefs that in itself would maybe make you more cautious in taking the vaccination, and those beliefs should be comfortably aired without it being dismissed as not important."

Similarly the team at the Shantona Women's Centre is using its well-established connections to get key messages out there.

Mrs Rasool: "We raise awareness and have been giving masks out. We appointed a staff member who will be going and talking to people about the vaccination programme. A lot of people are not reading it. It's important to remember word of mouth works really well.

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"We're encouraging all our volunteers to get vaccinated and to learn about it. They go and give the information to the community, to their friends and family.

"In this community, the effects [of the pandemic] were huge. People lost their family, friends. The Bangladeshi community is one of the worst hit. The only answer, as I see it, to come out of this situation is the vaccinations."

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