Vaccine hesitancy ‘not because people are choosing to be difficult’

Aine Fox, PA
·3-min read

Vaccine hesitancy among black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities is often rooted in social and cultural factors – and mistrust can be based on historic difficulties people have had, a health leader has said.

Concern around taking the Covid-19 vaccine is not about people “choosing to be difficult”, London’s regional director of Public Health England Professor Kevin Fenton said.

There can be a wide range of reasons for hesitancy, including past experience and a lack of trust, he added as he addressed the NHS Race and Health Observatory’s first webinar to address vaccine hesitancy.

He said: “Vaccine hesitancy is not an individual’s problem. It’s not because individuals are choosing to be difficult or not to obey requests from the system.”

He said it is “often rooted in a number of social, cultural, interpersonal and institutional factors that unless we have that broader view and that broader understanding of the factors which are driving hesitancy and poor (vaccine) uptake then we will fail to address them effectively”.

He said trust can only be earned by “speaking the truth and being honest and speaking from a place of authenticity” in making clear what is known, what is not known and what research is being done to address any gaps in knowledge.

Prof Fenton added: “We must remember that mistrust is often on the back of historic difficulties that people have with services that we also need to overcome as well.”

He said things like language literacy, the views of parents and guardians, and also how younger people might influence attitudes of older relatives in multigenerational households are all factors which must be considered when it comes to hesitancy.

The role of trusted health professionals is one “critical” way to motivate vaccination, he added.

He said: “I think now more than ever I’m seeing far more black, Asian and minority ethnic professionals of all backgrounds whether on social media, or on the television speaking about these issues and I hope that this is truly the beginning of a diversification of the images of health professionals that we’re seeing in our country.”

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said anti-vaxxers had been “so quick” to play on fears and suspicions in spreading myths around the vaccines and that it is up to clinical leaders to address them.

She said: “Some of the ones that I’ve seen are actually doctors coming out and saying that they’ve got to protect us from taking this vaccine, from this huge experiment.

“So I’m not surprised that we feel a deep level of mistrust but actually one of the things that we need to be doing as clinical leaders is getting out there and busting those myths.”

She said it is not about dismissing people’s thoughts or beliefs but instead to “engage in a conversation that explores that and providing the evidence to combat some of those misconceptions”.

Dr Habib Naqvi, director of the observatory, said the webinar was “focused on providing factual information about the vaccines which we hope will support communities, individuals and women of child-bearing age, to make reasoned decisions over taking the vaccine, based upon evidence and facts presented by experts”.

Encouraging people to get jabbed, he added: “Covid-19 vaccines are set to get us out of this pandemic and increasing the uptake of the vaccine amongst minority ethnic communities will require the sterling efforts of GPs, nurses, pharmacists as well as local community and religious leaders.”