Misinformation and racist past, shadows over Britain’s vaccination campaign

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Coronavirus vaccines do not contain pork and do not render sterile: in the UK, celebrities dismantle rumors to convince certain ethnic minorities, more reluctant than the rest of the population, to be vaccinated against COVID-19 .

• Read also: United Kingdom: first dose of COVID vaccine promised to all adults by end of July

This mistrust casts a shadow over the success of the British vaccination campaign. However, the stakes of these campaigns are high: these minorities are more bereaved than average by the pandemic.

In a recent meeting, Nikita Kanani, one of the leaders of the public health service (NHS), spoke of entire communities traumatized by “inappropriate experiments” carried out on their representatives in the past.

The government works with religious and community leaders, and has set up vaccination centers in mosques or Hindu temples.

Muslims and Jews were reassured that the vaccines do not contain pig or fetal stem cells. Imams have stressed that receiving a dose of the vaccine will not violate the Ramadan fast, which begins in mid-April.

A TV campaign draws on black and South Asian celebrities.

“There is no chip or tracker in the vaccine to watch where you are going,” said comedian and television presenter Romesh Ranganathan, referring to one of the rumors circulated. “Your cell phone is much more efficient at this.”

It is also pointed out that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was developed by a German-Turkish Muslim couple.

Guinea pigs

About 86% of the 66 million Britons are white. A third of the British population has already received a dose and the acceptance of the vaccination is around 90%. But the distrust of certain categories could leave pockets of resistance exposed.

In early December, the infection rate among Hasidic Jewish community in London’s Stamford Hill district was 64%, one of the highest recorded in the world, according to a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

More contamination in isolated communities means more risk of mutations in the virus, potentially resistant, warned John Edmunds, epidemiologist and government adviser, on Sunday on the BBC.

Figures from OpenSAFELY, a database maintained by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Oxford, showed that the vaccination rate in early February in Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities was only 59% .

Among people of African descent, it was less than 49%.

In the UK, the largest black African community originates from Nigeria, where anger continues after the death in 1996 of 11 children who had received an experimental meningitis vaccine developed by Pfizer.

“We have to be honest and admit that there have been reasons for the black community’s mistrust of health systems,” medicine professor Toyin Falusi Nwafor told Nigerian worshipers at Jesus House Church in the north. from London, during an intervention on YouTube.

The US-based doctor recalled Tuskegee’s study: Government scientists had monitored African-American men with syphilis for 40 years without treating them.

“Disappointed by the State”

In the UK, ethnic minorities are over-represented in low-paying jobs and overcrowded housing, and have more health problems such as diabetes – things that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19 disease.

Black British men are nearly three times more likely to die from the virus than white men, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics.

The death rate among people of Bangladeshi descent is twice as high.

Some minorities blame white doctors for not taking their concerns seriously, with 60% of blacks believing their health is not protected the same as that of others, according to a parliamentary report from November.

The government “may recognize the rational nature of some of these concerns,” suggests Agnes Arnold-Forster, a health historian at the University of Bristol, interviewed by AFP. “If the state has disappointed you time and time again, it’s not very surprising that you don’t have great confidence in state-sponsored initiatives.”