As the COVID-19 vaccine roll out continues at pace, there are growing concerns about how to address vaccine hesitancy in black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.
Research has shown people from BAME backgrounds are at higher risk from COVID-19. And this week, a new PHE London study found ethnicity continues to be a major factor in the health outcomes of communities during the second wave of the pandemic.
People living in those communities often face a range of inequalities that impact on their health and life chances. As nursing staff, we recognise these inequalities all too well - unequal access to good housing, secure jobs or accessing health care.
I saw this as a health visitor working in east London early in my career and I’ve continued to see the impact of poverty and disadvantage on so many patients and communities throughout my career.
So often, the voices of people in these communities are underrepresented and unheard in society and health care systems. Many people in BAME communities are suspicious of the Government and their influence on our lives. These are entrenched concerns in communities and this mistrust spills over into lack of access to health care, and currently, questioning the COVID-19 vaccine and refusing offers of to have the vaccine. And sadly, anti-vaxxers online have been quick to play on these fears and suspicions - spreading myths and misinformation.
But local leaders are undertaking really positive work in communities across the country, to give assurances about the vaccine. And nursing staff in those communities have an important role to play in being a trusted voice and source of information to those they come into contact with. Honesty is the best way to address any concerns.
I met with Nadhim Zahawi MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment, and we discussed how the success of the vaccine programme rollout is thanks to the skill of nursing teams, with other colleagues. Nursing staff have managed and overseen the logistics and practicalities of this programme and nursing teams understand their local populations and are best placed to lead local solutions too.
But I made clear the government need to increase the short-term supply of nursing staff to administer the vaccine, including vaccinators working in the independent sector, to make sure there is ongoing access to the vaccination programme. And I raised my concerns that agency nurses cannot access vaccinations as their employers cannot access vaccine supplies. The minister promised to ensure access to vaccine supplies for those employers.
My update to you last week explained how we are supporting you to deliver the vaccination programme and ongoing research to understand any concerns you may have. Remember, we have an extensive set of online FAQs updated regularly. I asked you to take part in two surveys, the first was an RCN survey asking you about your personal experience of the COVID-19 vaccine roll out and we will be sharing the results of our vaccination survey next week.
The second is this survey led by the Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU), part of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, with the NHS Race and Health Observatory board, which is seeking to better understand the attitudes, experiences and concerns of health and social care workers to the COVID-19 vaccine roll out. There is still time to take part and share your views.
To address health inequalities takes vision, courage and determination. System leaders and government must recognise and take action to address these avoidable and preventable health inequalities on communities.
Vaccine take up is one of the ways our society will be able to bring the pandemic to an end. But only by addressing the deep-rooted issues that exist in our communities will more COVID-19 deaths be avoided for those impacted most.