DR AMIR KHAN: ‘I vaccinated 100 people over 48-hour shift in Bradford. Every one of them was white’

The moment I realised what we were up against was when a student nurse, who had just spent a year on the Covid front line, told me that she wouldn’t have the vaccine because it might prevent her from becoming a mother in the future.

She was 21 and already in her third year of nursing. But she had been told the vaccines trigger an immune reaction which could damage the placenta in a pregnant woman – something that was entirely incorrect.

I was surprised. I expect this kind of misinformation from patients, not from a fellow medic, who had heard it from her mother.

I took time to explain the science to her and made her promise two things. First, that she would have the jab, and second, that she would tell her family, to encourage them to follow her lead.

Dr Amir Khan says he was surprised to hear misinformation from a fellow medic, not just from patients

This is the challenge we face in overcoming vaccine hesitancy in ethnic- minority communities, because that student nurse, who is from a South Asian background, is far from alone.

I recently bumped into an acquaintance from my gym, a fit-looking man of Afro-Caribbean heritage in his 60s. He told me he was too scared to have the vaccine. ‘We don’t know the long-term consequences,’ he told me.

I attempted to allay his fears, saying any side effects of vaccines present themselves earlier, not later, and they are almost always mild. He didn’t look convinced. I continued: ‘You and I are both from an ethnic minority background. The consequence of not having the jab, and catching Covid, is that we risk getting very sick.’

My work as a GP in a busy, inner-city Bradford practice has seen me touring care homes to vaccinate residents. Here again, among the most vulnerable members of society, I found vaccine hesitancy. One elderly lady, from a South Asian community, said her daughter had told her not to have the jab because it contained chimpanzee cells.

This isn’t quite as nuts as it sounds, because the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab does contain a genetically modified vector virus – which carries the vaccine into the human body – that causes the common cold in chimpanzees. However, it is not made of the ape’s cells or any other animal matter. Even so, you can see how misinformation has arisen.

I told the lady that my mum, the redoubtable Mama Khan who is a very strict Muslim, has had the jab. She knows it does not contain pork gelatine, animal cells or alcohol.

Having seen the damage done to ethnic minority communities by the pandemic, if I have to convert people one by one I certainly will.

I remember the very first weekend of vaccinations when I injected 100 people over a 48-hour shift. By the end, I was exhilarated but bothered: everyone I had vaccinated had been white.

Analysis by the Royal College of GPs revealed that 90.6 per cent of all Britons who had been vaccinated by the beginning of February had been white. This is deeply troubling, given that people from minority backgrounds have been impacted worse during the pandemic, in terms of numbers infected, severity of illness, hospital admissions and death.

So why are people so hesitant? The answer lies in a wide range of reasons, from fake news to issues of religion. Social problems, economic deprivation, and a language – or at least a communications – barrier all play their part, too.

The most up-to-date information about vaccines is usually broadcast on mainstream media channels. But these are often inaccessible to anyone whose main language is not English. This can mean they rely on social media or other third parties for information, which may be incorrect, misleading or a conspiracy theory.

The problem, however, dates long before Covid’s arrival.

Studies of the uptake of routine childhood immunisations show they have been lower in these communities. And according to Macmillan Cancer Support, cancer screening is, generally, less utilised by minority groups than by people from the white population.

Inevitably we are now witnessing an attitude, prevalent online, that goes: ‘Well, if people don’t want the vaccine, why are we bothering.’

But I believe this is a terrible mistake. It is not about stubbornness, it is about fear born of inequality and social deprivation. Having grown up working-class in Bradford, I understand the issues. There are invisible barriers and obstacles in daily life only experienced by those from minority ethnic backgrounds. These groups feel unfairly treated during this pandemic. They believe the Government was too slow to recognise ethnicity as a risk factor, and the official response is judged lukewarm at best.

The spikes in infection rates in cities such as Leicester, Bradford and Blackburn, triggering local lockdowns, were most likely due to social deprivation, overcrowded housing (a major factor) and the many people there who are in low-paid key-worker jobs.

Despite making up only 15 per cent of the population, people from minority ethnic backgrounds constitute 22 per cent of those living in the most socially deprived areas.

Bangladeshi people account for 24 per cent of overcrowded households in the UK, compared with two per cent of the white British population. Unemployment rates in black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities are approximately double the national average.

These factors, in turn, have a negative impact on health and the NHS.

Significantly, too, changes to local lockdown restrictions coincided with the start of religious holidays, and it felt as though ethnic minorities were suffering disproportionately. For example, my mother was distraught when told last July that we wouldn’t be able to celebrate Eid as a family because of new restrictions that were brought in for Manchester, Lancashire and West Yorkshire on the night before Eid itself.

When we talk about the lower uptake rates in minority ethnic groups, it can feel as though they are being blamed for it.

There is little understanding as to why these groups feel marginalised and why they have been reluctant to be vaccinated.

It was often said early on in the pandemic that Covid was ‘the great equaliser’. Nothing could be further from the truth. The pandemic has hit those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds the hardest. Existing divisions have widened, be it age, gender, social deprivation, education or jobs.

Now, though, we have something that can unite us all: the vaccine.

The Covid jab, not the virus, is the great equaliser.

lDr Amir Khan is the author of The Doctor Will See You Now (Penguin) and an ambassador for The Good Grief Trust.

We must have a grown-up debate about Covid, culture and race – or thousands more will die 

By Dan Hodges 

The cartoon was striking. A hapless Boris Johnson belatedly locking a barn door with a giant syringe, as an army of green Covid mutants ran amok behind him. ‘Border Farce’, said a sign drawn on the side of the ramshackle stable.

But even more significant than the message was the messenger. The attack on the Prime Minister for being insufficiently swift in closing the nation’s borders appeared in Monday’s Guardian. The in-flight magazine of the liberal elite was castigating a Conservative government for failing to construct Fortress Britain.

It was an image that again exposed the hypocrisy of Britain’s self-styled progressives. When Sajid Javid and Priti Patel moved to end the cross-Channel trade in human misery, there was outrage. Then Covid arrived, and it suddenly became clear it wouldn’t just be Dover and Folkestone that bore the impact of a vaccine-busting coronavirus strain. At which point the plea for openness and tolerance was replaced with a demand to rapidly slam down the shutters.

Do we actually want an honest conversation about Covid, immigration and race?

Do we actually want an honest conversation about Covid, immigration and race?

But it has also highlighted another issue. Do we actually want an honest conversation about Covid, immigration and race? At the start of the pandemic, the answer was No. It was a national crisis and we would confront it together.

But then attitudes shifted. There was evidence that Britain’s black and Asian communities were being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. A public inquiry was called for. London Mayor Sadiq Khan claimed the Government needed to look at the link between Covid deaths and ‘a hostile environment’ created by Ministers. Matt Hancock said the concerns were ‘particularly timely’ because ‘right across the world, people are angry about racial injustice. And I get that. Black lives matter’.

But then the debate shifted again. As the Government embarked on its whack-a-mole strategy, people began to perceive a connection between areas with large ethnic-minority communities and higher rates of Covid. Tory MP Craig Whittaker broke cover, and claimed Test And Trace data showed that members of the Muslim community within his Calder Valley constituency were ‘not taking the pandemic seriously enough’.

Whittaker was duly pounced upon. Drawing a link between Covid and ethnicity was now deemed unacceptable. He was branded a racist.

That was until a few weeks later, when Greater Manchester Police suddenly declared a ‘major incident’ as a result of soaring infections in its region. The biggest increase in rates were, according to local health officials, within the white community. ‘Manchester Covid outbreak “a warning to complacent white middle class”,’ screamed the headlines. Linking Covid and race was now legitimate after all.

The reality is that the truth about the spread and impact of Covid within Britain’s ethnic-minority communities is complex. For example, the latest Government data shows that during the first wave, the risk of death from Covid was greater for all minority ethnic groups. In the second wave this was true only for those of Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani heritage. But some facts are uncontested. Infection rates and deaths have indeed been higher among Britain’s ethnic minorities, sometimes to a staggering level. One Minister told me they have data showing infection rates of 67 per cent within the Orthodox Jewish community.

A number of the reasons for this disparity align comfortably with progressive sentiment. Low-income households. Poor-quality, high-density housing. Low-wage employment, where there is no opportunity to work from home. But a number of others do not. Cultural issues surrounding isolating and social distancing. An inability of non-English-speakers to understand Covid safety and health advice. An attempt to lump all ethnic-minority groups under a single convenient heading of ‘BAME’, and engage with them accordingly. Workplace tensions created by a backlash against risk-assessments focused on black and Asian workers.

But regardless of these facts, the terms of the discourse have been set. So long as the discussion about Covid and ethnicity can be channelled through the prism of overt or structural racism, everything is fine. But as soon it strays towards cultural factors within the impacted communities themselves, a conspiracy of silence descends.

All of which would be another frustrating, but fairly typical, example of our skewed modern dialogue over race. Except for this. That conspiracy of silence is now leading us towards a catastrophe of silence.

Everyone has been lauding the vaccine rollout. But the vaccination figures within the black and Asian community are horrific. Black vaccine take-up is half of that of the white community. In the Asian community it’s two-thirds.

But again, these basic facts have to be channelled through a prism of political correctness. A BMJ report last week hit the usual liberal tropes. An erosion of trust through ‘systemic racism and discrimination’. ‘Previous unethical healthcare research in black populations’. ‘Negative experiences within a culturally insensitive healthcare system’. These, the paper claimed, were all ‘legitimate concerns’, before helpfully adding that a failure of public health messaging meant ‘vaccine hesitancy’ was a ‘legitimate viewpoint’.

It’s not a legitimate viewpoint. And the primary failure of public health messaging is now from those progressives who – in a reckless and self-serving effort to paraded their anti-racist credentials – keep pretending it is. This morning Britain’s black and Asian communities find themselves at the centre of a propaganda double whammy. From the anti-vaxxers who are targeting them as part of their deranged campaign. And from the preening liberals who want to use Covid as the latest super-weapon in World War Woke.

The anti-vaxxers are beyond reason. So the only hope is that for once in their lives the self-styled progressives will shut up, take a step back and stop infantilising Britain’s ethnic minorities. And grasp these three realities.

First, that time is almost up. On June 21, lockdown will end. The country will reopen. And at that moment any community – regardless of colour or creed – that has turned its back on the vaccine will have issued an open invitation for Covid to come ripping through it.

The second is that the cavalry is not coming over the hill. There will be no preferential treatment for anyone. Those who have been calling for black and Asian communities to be raised up the vaccine priority list, or for door-to-door vaccinations to reach economically and racially disadvantaged households, can save their breath. The opportunity for vaccination is there for all. And Boris Johnson and his Ministers are only too well aware of the political implications of being seen to change the rules now.

The final reality is this. The only way to defeat the anti-vax propagandists is the way we always defeat propaganda – with hard truths and harder facts. And this is the hard truth that needs to be delivered. Every single one of us who can, needs to take the vaccine. We live in a free society, one that will stop short of legal compulsion. But despite that – indeed because of it – we each have an even greater obligation to ourselves and to our neighbours.

There can be no excuses. No cultural excuse. No historic excuse. No religious excuse.

Because if people try to rationalise and embrace the argument that ‘vaccine hesitancy is legitimate’, then people are going to die. Some of those who reject the vaccine will die. Some members of their family will die. And a lot of people in their communities will die. This is the message that needs to be delivered. To black and Asian Britain, just as it has to be delivered to everyone else.

In 2021, we will not pursue multiculturalism at the expense of thousands of needless Covid deaths. And if we don’t explain that patiently and clearly, but instead choose at this life-or-death moment to again suffocate our ethnic minorities beneath a blanket of victimhood, then Matt Hancock will have been proven wrong. Black lives won’t matter after all.

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