Sir Lenny Henry has said he wrote a letter encouraging black Britons to have the Covid-19 vaccine because there has been a “disproportionate amount of black people and brown people dying” during the pandemic which “we want to stop”.
The TV star and Comic Relief co-founder, 62, has enlisted support from other high-profile figures, including actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton, radio personality Trevor Nelson, musician KSI and author Malorie Blackman, as signatories.
The letter, which is backed by the NHS, has also been turned into a short film directed by Amma Asante.
Sir Lenny told the PA news agency: “Everybody signed it because we all believe that this a time for us to be looking after our loved ones and there’s been a disproportionate amount of black people and brown people dying in the pandemic and we want to stop that.
“And we think the misinformation about the science and the expertise of the people that know that stuff, the misinformation that is being perpetuated is wrong, and we thought there must be something we can do to counter it and this was the big idea.”
The letter, addressed to “mums, dads, grandparents, uncles, aunties, brothers, sisters, nephew, nieces, daughters, sons and cousins”, says that the “reality is the new normal may mean needing a vaccine to do many of the things we now take for granted”.
It adds: “You have legitimate worries and concerns, we hear that. We know change needs to happen and that it’s hard to trust some institutions and authorities.
“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.”
Asked why there was caution in the black community about having the vaccine, Sir Lenny said: “I think there’s an element of mistrust in terms of the system, certain institutions and authorities haven’t done, haven’t particularly done right by the black community in the past and why should they do something for us now? Why are they doing us all a big favour?
“Well the thing is, you can trust the science, you can trust the experts, and I would say mistrust stuff you read in terms of just people online venting.
“Talk to your GP, talk to a science expert, don’t talk to someone down the pub.”
Around four in 10 people in England aged 70 and over identifying as black African are unlikely to have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Vaccination rates for this ethnic group as of March 11 were estimated to be 58.8%, the lowest among all ethnic minority groups, while for people identifying as black Caribbean the estimated rate is 68.7%.
For people identifying as white British the estimated rate is 91.3%.
Taking into account factors such as age, sex and underlying health conditions, the odds of not having received a dose of the vaccine were 5.5 times greater for people from black African backgrounds and four times greater for people from black Caribbean backgrounds compared with people of white British ethnicity, the ONS added.
Asked if the Government had done enough to build up the trust of the black community, Sir Lenny said: “It’s really funny that people are being accused of hesitancy when one of the things that got us so deeply into this is the hesitancy of Government to lock down earlier, to get involved and say we’re going to have a lockdown now.
“They waited and that’s why we’re in this terrible situation, so it’s a bit ironic to accuse the black community of hesitating. What I do think is, there are mitigating circumstances to the trust and the lack of take-up and those things need to be mended before people can move forward and we’re doing our bit to do that and perhaps the Government needs to do the same too.
“My thing is, we’re all in this together. Black, white, Asian, whatever, we’re all in it together. We all want our families and our loved ones to survive. We respect and care about and support our key workers and what we can do to help everyone is to take the jab so that this contagion doesn’t spread.
“We want to be in the fields, we want to go to festivals, we want to go to the theatre, we want to see shows, we want to walk into a restaurant and say, ‘Have you got any seats?’. We want to do that stuff again, so come on, take the jab. Just do it”.
The film will be aired across Sky, BT Sport, Viacom, Discovery, A&E and ROK and Channel 5 on Tuesday from 8pm.