Norfolk BAME leaders urge communities to accept Covid vaccine
- Credit: Archant/Nannette Youssef/Azam Gabbair
Leading BAME figures in Norfolk have urged communities to get the coronavirus vaccine - but said they could understand why take-up was poor.
Prominent black, Asian and minority ethnic voices in the county said accepting appointments was crucial to "protect ourselves and others".
It comes after comedian Sir Lenny Henry wrote an open letter calling on black Britons to get their jabs.
The letter has been signed by a host of high-profile names including actor Thandie Newton, Youtuber and musician KSI, and DJ Trevor Nelson.
Latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows vaccination rates among many ethnic minority groups is significantly lower than that of white Brits.
The rate for people in England who identify themselves as black African is the lowest, at 58.8pc, while the figure for black Caribbeans is 68.7pc.
When it comes to those who identify as white British, the take-up is more than 91pc.
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Clive Lewis, Norfolk's only MP of colour, said there were several issues to consider to understand the disparity.
"You have to look at the history of science and medicine in this country," he said. "For many years there has been a promotion of racist thought, so you can see why a lot of black people are suspicious of the state.
"That lack of trust is something you cannot get away from, and it's not just the black community but any that is disadvantaged.
"A problem in Norfolk is the health infrastructure. We know the most socially disadvantaged have the worst access, especially compared to those in London, for example.
"When you take those factors into account, you can see why take-up is lower."
The Norwich South MP added that low vaccination rates were worrying and highlighted his own willingness to get protection from the virus.
"It is a concern people are not taking it up, but particularly BAME communities because people are more likely to be in jobs where they are denied sick pay," he said.
"They need to have a vaccine - there is no two ways about it. I've not had mine yet but, when I do, I'll certainly be shouting about it."
Norwich city councillor Nannette Youssef, who co-chairs Young Greens of Colour, believed the key to moving forward was wider engagement with those from minority backgrounds.
"A lot of it comes down to historical discrimination," she said.
"People in BAME communities are more likely to get Covid and that has a structural basis to it because they are more likely to live in poverty.
"In Norfolk, people in these communities are quite isolated and very reliant on Whatsapp groups and social media, which are breeding grounds for misinformation.
"It is important we engage and have a dialogue. We have to understand where these views are coming from and I feel it is a public health failing, to not engage with people and address concerns they have - and now we are playing catch-up."
That increasingly-discussed topic of misinformation is a key issue in the eyes of Azam Gabbair, president of the West Norfolk Islamic Association (WNIA).
Worries in the Muslim community had been driven by rumours surrounding whether vaccines contain pork and alcohol - both of which are banned from consumption in Islam.
The British Islamic Medical Association has, however, recommended both the Pfizer and Oxford jab, while the WNIA has been using Friday prayers to encourage take-up.
"We are confident the two vaccines being used in the UK are permissible from an Islamic perspective and there should be no hesitation or reluctance," said Mr Gabbair."
"It is our duty to protect ourselves and others from harm.
"It is important this message is relayed loud and clear by community and religious leaders to eradicate misconceptions, which are undermining efforts to immunise the public."
The Rev Didier Ngolo, senior pastor at Norwich-based African church, Rivers of Life, said take-up among his own congregation had been relatively good.
"We are encouraging people to get their jabs, and we tell them they have no need to worry," he added. "We have to make ourselves safe.
"First of all, people were maybe a little bit worried. The problem is, there are so many pieces of information.
"Our people like to travel all the time and they cannot do that unless they get the vaccine - especially if vaccine passports are introduced."