A group of celebrities is urging Black Britons to take a COVID-19 vaccine as concerns mount over a lag in uptake rates.
Figures published on Monday by the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that more than 90 percent of people over the age of 70 nationwide had received their first dose of vaccine as of March 11.
But among those who identified as Black African, that rate was 58.8 percent, marking the lowest level among all ethnic minority groups. In the Black Caribbean community, the rate stood at 68.7 percent.
Taking up the issue on Tuesday, actor and comedian Lenny Henry wrote an open letter co-signed by several other Black public figures – including historian David Olusoga, author Malorie Blackman and actress Thandie Newton – calling on Black people to accept the offer of a vaccine when it comes.
He warned that continued low uptake could leave the Black community at risk of being further “disproportionately impacted by this terrible disease”.
Among white British people aged 70 and over, the uptake was 91.3 percent. For people of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian origin, the rate was 72.7 percent, 74 percent and 86.2 percent respectively. The rate among elderly people of Chinese ancestry was 76.6 percent.
“We want you to be safe and we don’t want you to be left out or left behind,” Henry wrote.
He also addressed some of the factors behind vaccine hesitancy, such as mistrust in authorities due to discrimination and misinformation about the jabs and their side effects.
“You have legitimate worries and concerns, we hear that. We know change needs to happen and that it’s hard to trust some institutions and authorities,” Henry wrote.
“But we’re asking you to trust the facts about the vaccine from our own professors, doctors, scientists involved in the vaccine’s development, [and] GPs, not just in the UK but across the world including the Caribbean and Africa.”
Throughout the pandemic, ethnic minorities in the UK have been hit particularly hard by the virus, with higher rates of infections, hospitalisations and deaths in many communities. Experts have blamed systemic racism for this disproportionate impact.
COVID-19 death rates have been higher among the Black community than any other ethnic group in the UK, and research suggests Black people are twice as likely as white people to contract the coronavirus.
The pandemic has killed more than 126,000 people nationwide, marking Europe’s worst death toll.
Layla Moran, a Liberal Democrat member of parliament and chair of an all-party parliamentary group on COVID-19, described the ONS figures as “deeply alarming”.
She called on the government to “urgently step up efforts to tackle vaccine hesitancy among ethnic minority groups”, who were known to be vulnerable to serious disease from the coronavirus.
“That means building on some of the successful community-led initiatives we have seen, rather than relying on national campaigns from central govt,” she tweeted.
Overall, more than 30 million people in the UK – almost 60 percent of adults – have received a first dose of vaccine to date. The immunisation drive is the fourth-fastest in the world after Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Chile.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is aiming to give everyone over the age of 18 at least one shot by the end of July.
Efforts are currently focused on vaccinating adults in their fifties, after which attention will shift to those in their forties in line with the UK’s strategy to roll out doses in descending age order.