Sir Lenny Henry urges black Britons to get Covid jab

Laura Harding, PA Deputy Entertainment Editor
·4-min read

Film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton, author Malorie Blackman and radio DJ Trevor Nelson are among the signatories of an open letter by Sir Lenny Henry urging black Britons to get the Covid-19 vaccine.

In the letter Sir Lenny acknowledges the “legitimate worries and concerns” that people feel, adding: “We know change needs to happen and that it’s hard to trust some institutions and authorities.”

He continues: “But we’re asking you to trust the facts about the vaccine from our own professors, doctors, scientists involved in the vaccine’s development, GPs, not just in the UK but across the world including the Caribbean and Africa.

“Many of whom are our relatives, many of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the people of this country from this pandemic.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the letter, writing on Twitter: “The vaccine is our best route out of this pandemic and we must all do our part by taking the vaccine when it is offered to us. Thank you Sir @LennyHenry for speaking up on this important issue.”

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Older people from black African backgrounds are more than seven times as likely as white British people to have not received a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The rate for people in the black African group receiving a first vaccine dose was estimated to be 58.8% – the lowest among all ethnic minority groups.

The estimated rate for people identifying as white British was 91.3%.

Thandie Newton
Thandie Newton has signed the letter (Ian West/PA)

Sir Lenny’s letter, which is supported by the NHS, has also been signed by high profile figures including former footballer Garth Crooks, author Reni Eddo-Lodge, Mobo Awards founder Kanya King, activist Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Olympian Denise Lewis and historian David Olusoga.

It has been turned into a short film directed by A United Kingdom’s Amma Asante and starring actors Adrian Lester, David Harewood, Naomie Ackie and Adjoa Andoh.

The letter adds: “Don’t let your understandable fears be what holds you back.

Amma Asante
Amma Asante has turned the letter into a film (Ian West/PA)

“Don’t let your concerns be the thing that widens racial inequality in our society.

“Don’t let black people continue to be disproportionately impacted by this terrible disease.

“Many in our community say they do not want to take the vaccine, much more than other groups.

“But the fact is we have been disproportionately affected by the virus, many of our loved ones have died. Don’t let coronavirus cost even more black lives.”

David Harewood
David Harewood appears in the film (Ian West/PA)

The film will be aired across Sky, BT Sport, Viacom, Discovery, A&E and ROK and Channel 5 on Tuesday from 8pm.

Sir Lenny said: “I felt it was important to do my bit and so I wrote this letter to black Britain asking people not to get left behind, to not continue to be disproportionately impacted and to trust the facts from our doctors, professors and scientists, not just in the UK but across the world, including the Caribbean and Africa.

“I hear and understand the concerns which people of all backgrounds are wrestling with, but which are particularly concerning in black communities.

“I want people to be safe, I don’t want people to die or end up in hospital because of Covid-19. So I’m saying, when your turn comes, take the jab.

“I want to thank everyone who has signed the letter and dear friends who took part in Amma’s beautiful film.”

Chiwetel Ejiofor
Chiwetel Ejiofor is among the signatories (Ian West/PA)

Professor Kevin Fenton, London’s regional director for Public Health England, added: “We know our black communities have been among the hardest hit during this pandemic, but we also know there are some among us who are less likely to come forward for the life-saving vaccine.

“We can all play a role in encouraging our friends and family to take it up when offered, whether that’s answering questions or concerns they may have, pointing them towards information and advice from trusted sources, sharing our own experiences of getting the vaccine or declining to pass on myths and misinformation circulating on social media.

“Getting back to normal life in the UK will mean every one of us joining the over 30 million people across the UK who have already taken up the vaccine. So I am fully behind Sir Lenny’s call to our black communities. Let’s all do our bit, keep our loved ones safe and end this pandemic sooner rather than later.”