More must be done to encourage African Caribbean communities to sign up for Covid vaccines, a pastor has said. Emmanuel Adeseko of the New Covenant Ministries, has taken part in a round-table event involving church leaders in Birmingham. They want to encourage people in their communities to be vaccinated. The meeting came after comments last week said uptake of the vaccine in some of the city's most vulnerable communities was as low as 50%.
Birmingham's director of public health Justin Varney said there was evidence that suggested in some areas, half of those being invited for vaccines were turning them down. Such concerns prompted the leader of Birmingham City Council and the city's MPs, both Labour and Conservative, to write to Health Secretary Matt Hancock to appeal for the urgent release of more detailed vaccination data. They said the information would be a vital "warning", allowing them to work to resolve issues on the ground.
Mr Adeseko, 32, whose 65-year-old father Nathaniel died from coronavirus in April, said there was real fear in sections of the community and if the lower uptake was correct he would not be surprised as people were "afraid. Some of it is caused by the mis-information on social media there is so much of it.
"But it's not just one thing, there are religious beliefs at play in some cases and some people have had negative experiences with healthcare in the past." He said education and role models from within communities would be key to addressing these issues.
Former Wolverhampton Labour MP Eleanor Smith, who had a 40-year nursing career before entering politics, also took part in the round-table discussion. She said as a Christian, she would like to see strong interventions from church leaders: "When people are being misinformed on such a grand scale, churches need to step up. I am a Christian myself and I think they need to be clear.
"In my view they need to tell people it is OK to be vaccinated or it's a bit of a cop out." She also praised efforts in other faith communities, adding: "Many imams seem to be doing a good job in trying to get these messages out; we need to see the same." But like Mr Adeseko, Ms Smith said official efforts to dispel myths and reassure people needed to be stepped-up.
"Historically Black people have not always been listened to, or treated equally in terms of medical care, so there is a lack of trust sometimes. We need to deal with it and we need role models within the community," she said.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said he had been meeting with the region's faith leaders regularly. "I will be discussing with them how best to work with the NHS and Public Health England to alleviate people's concerns and get them vaccinated and protected against this dreadful virus," he said. "Anti-vaxxers spreading the misinformation that dissuades people from getting vaccinated have blood on their hands and should be truly ashamed of their actions."
The government has said more regional data on vaccinations will be made available in due course. The discussion was organised by Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner and attended by shadow equalities minister Marsha de Cordova. Labour is calling for a national plan to support vaccination in Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.