The government is “very concerned” about low uptake of the coronavirus jab among black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, the vaccines minister has told Sky News.
Speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Nadhim Zahawi said overall COVID-19 vaccine acceptance was “very high”, with data from the Office for National Statistics showing 85% of adults were very likely to take up the offer of a jab.
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But Mr Zahawi said the remaining 15% “skew heavily towards BAME communities and especially Afro-Caribbean, black communities and of course other Asian and BAME communities”.
“If one particular community remains unvaccinated, then the virus will seek them out and it will go through that community like wildfire and that’s not something any of us wish to see,” he said.
As a result, Mr Zahawi said, “you’ll hear more on this from me in the coming days” about how the government will try to increase the take-up of jabs among those from BAME communities.
He added: “We know the level of uptake and to focus on those groups we need to focus on to make sure we get the hard to reach groups.
“This is an important issue. We are focusing on it and you will see more from us, with the NHS, so we deliver for all communities.”
He was speaking after new data released by the Royal College of GPs – and shared with Sky News – found that 90% of vaccine doses administered so far have been given to white people.
It found that people of mixed ethnicity, Asian and black are, respectively, approximately only 33, 47 and 64% as likely to receive a jab as white people.
The group is calling for a nationwide campaign, backed by faith leaders and prominent BAME public figures, to try to increase vaccine take-up.
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The COVID vaccines are set to get us out of this pandemic, but increasing the uptake of the vaccine amongst black, Asian and minority ethnic patients will require more than the efforts of GPs and their teams.
“If prominent figures from BAME communities work with the NHS to help bust the myths around the COVID vaccine and help deliver clear and relevant messages about its safety, it may very well save lives.”
During his Sky News interview, Mr Zahawi also discussed his concerns around anti-vaccination messages on social media.
“We set up a unit across government that looks at all the anti-vax messages and alerts the social media platforms to them to help take them down as quickly as possible,” he said.
“We want them to do as much as they can, as quickly as they can, and we’ll continue to work with them very closely, but we can always do more because there is too much.”
Mr Zahawi said people concerned about vaccines should get information from their GPs, particularly black and ethnic minority groups.
“I’ve done numerous roundtables with black and ethnic minority practitioners, nurses, doctors, who have been jabbed themselves, because the best experience is from someone you trust that’s already taken the vaccine,” he said.