UK Home Secretary Priti Patel warned against a degree of reluctance towards COVID-19 vaccines among ethnic minority communities in the UK, including some within the Indian diaspora, and hailed the work being done by temples, mosques and gurdwaras to counter disinformation. Speaking at a virtual event organised by the Conservative Friends of India (CFIN) diaspora group on Tuesday evening, the senior Cabinet minister said she plans to get very vocal over the issue to spread the message around the safety and efficacy of vaccines currently being administered as part of the National Health Service's (NHS) largest vaccination campaign in history.
The two vaccines currently being administered among those most at risk of dying from coronavirus in the UK are the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs. "We are seeing a degree of reluctance among some in the ethnic communities to have the vaccine. All sorts of disinformation is out there. I plan to be very vocal about this," said Patel.
"If we step up to assure people within our communities that the vaccine is solid, safe, efficacious, it's not conflicting with our religious values or anything of that nature, we will save lives. From a humanitarian perspective, from a people-to-people perspective, this is so vital right now. It costs us nothing, it's about protecting our friends, family and loved ones be it through our gurdwaras, mosques or mandirs, it is important to relay that message," she said. It is the latest in a series of drives to counter fake news and spread greater awareness around the safety of COVID-19 vaccines across Britain as reports indicated a lower uptake within some ethnic groups amid suspect WhatsApp messages claiming they may contain alcohol or meat.
"I have had meetings with ministers Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi and Minister for Communities Lord Stephen Greenlaugh and we have been assured that all vaccines are safe and suitable for vegans," said Trupti Patel, President of the Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB). "There are no questionable ingredients in it from a religious point of view and we want the British Hindu community to have the right information and protect themselves because we know from the data that ethnic minorities are at greater risk from this dangerous virus," added Rajnish Kashyap, General Secretary of Hindu Council UK.
Temples, gurdwaras and mosques around the UK have been undertaking drives to better inform community members. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir or Neasden Temple in London, one of the UK's largest temples, said it has been addressing many of the concerns and doubts during its daily live webcasts watched by thousands and through videos translated in Indian languages. While the Sikh Doctors Association (SDA) said it has been running a rolling review of the vaccines to address any concerns over their makeup or side effects, the UK's Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) has been highlighting that the COVID-19 vaccines are halal through dedicated Friday sermons.
A British Indian GP who is heading up the NHS drive against disinformation welcomed the collective efforts in combating fake news and said work is ongoing for more translated material to spread greater awareness. "We need to be clear and make people realise there is no meat in the vaccine, there is no pork in the vaccine, it has been accepted and endorsed by all the religious leaders and councils and faith communities," said Dr Harpreet Sood, NHS England's Associate Chief Clinical Information Officer.
Latest NHS figures show that a total of 4.06 million people have had their jabs to protect against COVID-19, which marks a significant step towards hitting the UK government target of offering vaccines to the top four priority groups of over-80, care home residents and staff, frontline workers and over-70s by the middle of February. The top four priority groups account for 88 per cent of COVID-19 deaths, which hit another massive daily toll of 1,610 this week to take the UK's total from the deadly virus to 97,470.