politics

Councils to get £23m to encourage high-risk groups to have jab


The government will provide £23m in funding to dozens of councils in England to help fight misinformation around coronavirus vaccines and to encourage uptake of the jab among more high-risk communities.

Councils with plans to contact people from minority ethnic backgrounds, older people and disabled people have been chosen for the financial support, as these groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are more likely to be dealing with its long-term effects.

A number of experts and politicians recently called for people in high-risk minority ethnic groups to be prioritised for immunisation, and for them to be targeted by publicity campaigns aimed at tackling vaccine scepticism.

There are concerns about vaccine uptake within some groups, after research showed up to 72% of black people said they were unlikely or very unlikely to have the jab.

Meanwhile, a number of BAME community leaders have taken action in the fight against vaccine hesitancy, with Qari Asim, the chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, and a number of other Muslim leaders telling the Guardian they had started a campaign to encourage BAME communities to get vaccinated.

Their activism has included hundreds of mosques recently using Friday prayers to spread coronavirus awareness and combat myths around vaccinations.

Local councils and voluntary organisations will use a community champions schemes to communicate accurate health information, using outreach techniques such as helplines, school programmes and workplace engagement. They will also phone people in at-risk groups, as well as hosting training sessions to help people provide information and advice in an effort to expand networks of local champions.

Community champions schemes are in place across various parts of England. The backing of local leaders and advocates to “communicate public health messages with credibility and impact” was one of a number of recommendations issued by the government’s Race Disparity Unit (RDU) advisory group in October.

The funding will also go towards supporting outreach campaigns working with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, said.

Jenrick warned in a statement that “false information about Covid-19 vaccines could cost lives”, and he said the central government money would allow local authorities and community groups to build on their existing campaigns to provide people with accurate information.

The vaccine deployment minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “We want all communities to take up the offer of a free vaccine.” He said he had been working alongside faith and community leaders to “ensure those who may be at higher risk of harm from this virus know how they can benefit from a vaccine”.

According to Office for National Statistics figures up to late July, the Covid death rate for black African men in England and Wales was 62 per 100,000, compared with 12 per 100,000 for white men. The rate for men from Bangladeshi backgrounds was 61 per 100,000.



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