UK faith leaders join to counter fears over vaccine in BAME communities | Vaccines and immunisation


The pastor of the UK’s biggest black majority church is urging members of his congregation to take the Covid jab as part of a new campaign by faith leaders to dispel vaccination concerns among black, Asian and minority ethnic people.

The Give Hope campaign also has the backing of Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Church of England’s first female black bishop, and leaders from Anglican, Methodist, Salvation Army, Baptist, Pentecostal, Evangelical and black majority churches.

Agu Irukwu of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, which has about 800 places of worship in the UK, told the Observer: “Our message is to encourage our congregations to take the vaccines, and to provide information that answers the many legitimate questions raised.”

Faith leaders will “bring experts – a large proportion from within the communities, people they trust, people they know – to address concerns and answer questions”. There had been a shift in opinion with more BAME people willing to be vaccinated, but there was still a high degree of hesitancy, he added.

Irukwu, the senior pastor at the UK’s biggest RCCG church, Jesus House in north London, which normally attracts more than 2,000 people to Sunday services, said there were “many factors fuelling fears, anxieties and concerns. There is historical mistrust of scientists and the government in significant parts of our community.

Rose Hudson-Wilkin, bishop of Dover
Rose Hudson-Wilkin, bishop of Dover, supports the campaign to increase uptake of the vaccine. Photograph: Carl Court/AFP via Getty Images

“There is also a lot of misinformation, unfortunately some of it being fuelled from outside the country by some influential Christian leaders. There are medical concerns about the contents of the vaccines and then there are some religious concerns as well. We have been working on bringing correct information to our people in our community so that they can make informed decisions.”

Hudson-Wilkin, the bishop of Dover, said: “There are distracting voices in our black and minority ethnic communities spreading doubt and alarm. And while I understand the fear and concern, listening to those voices alone will rob us of the need to live flourishing lives with our families and friends.

“These vaccines offer us a path through the pandemic, giving us hope, strength and the chance of safety.”

The Give Hope campaign has been organised by Your Neighbour, a movement of more than 1,100 churches from over 40 denominations in the UK created to respond to the Covid crisis. The campaign is supporting efforts by the NHS and public health officials to encourage greater take-up of the vaccine by BAME people and to dispel the myths around it.

Last week a study by the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that black people over the age of 80 were half as likely as white people in the same age group to have been vaccinated against Covid by mid-January.

Last month the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) released a document saying vaccine hesitancy was highest in black or black British groups, with 72% stating they were unlikely or very unlikely to get the jab.

One GP group in Stoke-on-Trent said the proportion of people not attending vaccine clinics when invited was 10 times higher among BAME people than the average. “We’ve had around 20-30% DNAs [did not attend] among the BAME community, compared to 2-3% in other groups,” Dr Lenin Vellaturi told GPonline.

Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said last week the government would examine the issue of “refusal rates”, especially within BAME communities.

Among concerns people have raised is whether the vaccines are medically safe and whether they contain products forbidden to followers of particular religions. Public health experts and community representatives have sought to reassure people, but faith leaders are likely to be especially influential.

The East London Mosque, which serves the largest Muslim community in the UK, hosted a pop-up vaccination centre this weekend to help counter mistrust of the vaccines.

In north London, a Jewish GP and a Muslim GP will join forces on Sunday to launch a mobile vaccination unit visiting places of worship, community centres and private homes to increase uptake of the Covid jab among faith groups.

Irukwu said: “Faith leaders are very important at getting public health messages across to the communities they serve. It is important they play their role and influence their congregations by what they do themselves.”



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