person holding white ballpoint pen
Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

About a month ago, I got a sense that something wasn’t quite right about the vaccine take-up amongst the British Black community.

It slowly emerged there was an issue developing with the Black community take-up of the COVID vaccine. It was the tone in people’s voices, an accumulation of tweets, people sharing posts from America on social media. I was determined to get the public health messages across and counter the conspiracies.

Recently published statistics support my sense that take-up of the vaccine is lower in BAME communities, and specifically in the Black community. It’s true, even NHS workers have had fewer Black and Filipino NHS staff vaccinated than their white colleagues, according to the Health Service Journal.

Importantly, mistrust in health authorities in the Black community is not without foundation, it’s based on decades of mistrust and poor treatment of the Black community by the medical profession. Many in the community still remember the Tuskegee Experiment, a shameful and unethical experiment on African-American sharecroppers in Alabama which stopped only in the 1970s.

It was carried out by the US Public Health Service and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The same organisations encouraging people to wear face coverings and vaccine take-up.

Perhaps then, it’s no surprise that the medical establishment is regarded with scepticism by Black America.

Regrettably, treatment of the Black community in the UK is also cause for concern: Black women are four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than their white counterparts. And more generally, McPherson, Windrush and Grenfell have reinforced anxieties amongst Black communities. All issues that are unresolved.

I’ve been trying to counter some of the myths and produced a video on my own for social media to try and reassure the community. I have spoken on local radio and given press interviews about the importance of taking the vaccine. I’ve also asked Wolverhampton Council to try and create forums where people can ask questions and have reliably advice, by working with Faith Leaders and established figures in the Black community to encourage them to get on board and promote vaccine take up.

There’s a lot going on. I know faith groups that are gearing up to loan Wi-Fi enabled tablets so that older congregation members can access reliable information about the vaccine, and I’m putting together a panel of health professionals, faith leaders and BAME council members over Zoom to try and get positive messages across.

I feel that we’re doing our bit on the ground, but there’s little coming down from Central Government seeking to address the issue. We’ve seen adverts with older white actors and entertainers from the Government. Where’s the equivalent message to the Black community?

It seems obvious, but the Government spend millions on TV advertising. They need to act quickly to save Black lives, before it’s too late.