As with polio, so with Covid-19

How long until I get the Covid-19 vaccination? That’s what we all want to know. But, being British, we are too polite to ask.

Problem is that new research shows that while most people in the UK (82%) intend to get vaccinated there is a significant number of people who are not so keen.

This odd attitude to a free life-saving injection is called vaccine hesitancy, defined as ‘delay in acceptance or refusal of safe vaccines despite availability of vaccination services’.

The research report, ‘Predictors of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the UK Household a Longitudinal Study’, indicates that vaccine hesitancy is particularly high in Black (71.8%), Pakistani/Bangladeshi (42.3%), Mixed (32.4%) and non-UK/Irish White (26.4%) ethnic groups.

The reports authors say that the main reason for this high level of hesitancy are fears over unknown future effects.

Older people who have the greatest COVID-19 mortality risk expressed the greatest willingness to be vaccinated, but Black and Pakistani/Bangladeshi ethnic groups had greater vaccine hesitancy.

The report’s authors recommend that as a result of their research vaccine programmes should prioritise measures to improve uptake in specific minority ethnic groups.

In addition there is a need for an intensive information campaign in boroughs such as Tower Hamlets otherwise a lot of people are going to die needlessly.

Public health professionals and MPs are calling for people in high-risk minority ethnic groups to be prioritised for vaccination.

Tower Hamlets has the highest number of Muslim residents in the country at around 38% of the residents compared with 5% in England and 13% in London. Source: Tower Hamlets Borough Profile 2018

Tower Hamlets is also home to the largest Bangladeshi population in the country, around 32 per cent of our population.

Back of an envelope

Got a spare envelope handy? Yeah? Thanks (we only need the back).

So total population Tower Hamlets is 308,000 (2017).
32% (Bangladeshi origin) of that 308,000 is 98,560 people.
And 42% of 98,560 is 41,400.

Which means that after heaven and earth has been moved to develop and deploy a Covid-19 vaccine there might be 41,000 people wandering around the borough who refuse to be vaccinated.

Which is, to use the statistical term, an awful lot of people.

Not only is this very bad for them and their families (and the over-burdened NHS) it is also bad news for the 267,000 people in the borough who have jumped at the chance of getting vaccinated and have slightly sore arms to prove it.

That is the reality of being vaccinated, a sore arm for a day and you get to be alive for a good few decades. What’s not to like?

41,000 or so people refusing to take the Covid-19 is potentially catastrophic for Tower Hamlets.

For any disease the level vaccine uptake would need to be between approximately 67% and 80% to reduce spread of the disease. Some term this herd immunity, others call it plain common sense. Either way it could never be achieved in our borough and so Covid-19 would continue to rip through our community.

Multiple studies have shown that Bangladeshi people are more likely to get Covid-19 and then are more likely to have a negative outcome. (Also known as dying.)

So the irony of this worst-case scenario is that the ethnic minorities who are at most risk of catching Covid-19 and having worse health outcomes than other groups would be the very same group allowing the virus to continue to spread.

Does anyone believe this should be allowed to happen? Racist groups would consider this a gift as they are already busy peddling hate and false rumours about ethnic minorities.

Why vaccine hesitant?

One popular nonsensical reason for not getting vaccinated is that the virus was a secret ploy by pharmaceutical companies to sell a vaccine. Absolutely not true.

Another bullshit-full theory is that Bill Gates has created a tracking device to be implanted in a COVID-19 vaccine. Why would he be bothered? Mr G. has lots of other things to do and creating a tracking device so tiny it would go through a needle ain’t one of them. This theory is also absolutely not true.

Another false claim that seems specifically targetted at the Bangladeshi community is that vaccines contain alcohol (they do not) or pork (they do not) and they can alter patients’ DNA (they cannot).

The Anti-Vaxx industry

According to a report by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) the number and sophistication of the anti-vaxxers is effectively an industry in its own right. All groups are of course fuelled by social media. No surprises there.

CCDH analysis of the anti-vaxx industry shows that it can be broadly split into four groups.

  1. Campaigners who are full-time activists, some of whom earn a living from their work
  2. Entrepreneurs who use the anti-vaxx movement to promote a business
  3. Conspiracists who will latch onto anything given half a chance
  4. Communities of anti-vaxx people, people with a mutual interest in anti-vaxx ideas who form online groups, typically on Facebook, who get off sharing and discussing these ideas.

The nonsense these individuals and groups spout is just that – nonsense. Once conspiracists could be regarded with some amusement, now they have blood on their hands as innocent people die because they have believed some of their ideas.

Khasruz Zaman, Inclusion and Engagement Manager, Barts Health

A simple and effective way to neuter the anti-vaxx movement is to ‘de-platform’ (ban) them from social media, particularly Facebook. This has recently been proved very effective on a well known head of state as he tried to destroy American democracy, and it only seems fair to use the same tactics to save people from dying of coronavirus.

No doubt the anti-vaxx people will eventually find some other way to infect societies with hate, but just think of the time it would take them to swap phone numbers.

Mosque myth busters

Both the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) have been busy getting good information out to Muslim communities.

The BIMA Answering The Myths document is a superb resource which should be taped to the walls of every mosque, madrassa and educational institution in the borough.

20 myths about coronavirus are listed and debunked in the document. Here are a just a few.

Myth Covid vaccine causes irreversible side effects
Truth No patient has suffered from irreversible side effects in either trials or the population

Myth The vaccine may modify your DNA
Truth There is no way that the mRNA technology used by the Covid-19 vaccine can change your DNA or that of anyone else

Myth Covid is caused by the 5G network
Truth Covid is spreading in countries without 5G. There is no scientific connection. This myth started because the original outbreak in Wuhan, China coincided with rollout of 5G in the area.

Myth A nurse took the Covid-19 vaccine and died on camera
Truth The nurse fainted. After she had recovered she gave a press conference to say she has previously fainted when in pain.

Despite all the doom and gloom the good news is that overall most people will take the Covid-19 vaccine and this will eventually stop its spread. Unfortunately this may not be the case in Italy where previous vaccination rates for other transmissible diseases have been low, so low that they may be too low to stop the pandemic.

The authors of ‘Predictors of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the UK’ acknowledge that vaccine hesitancy is a complex problem and there is no one initiative that can solve it.

Universal targeted educational interventions are part of the solution. No prizes for guessing that one.

In Tower Hamlets this means a massive public health information campaign to educate everyone, not just the Bangladeshi or Black community, about vaccination facts.

  • Every bus stop in every road must have a large vaccine information poster in both English and Sylheti.
  • Every bus should be plastered with the same.
  • Every Bangladeshi language TV and radio station should carry information about the Covid-19 vaccine.
  • Every community leader should be tasked with vaccine education
  • Every local councillor should be working to ensure council initiatives reach their community
  • Information leaflets need to be delivered to every household. This is not a time to forget that a huge number of homes in the borough have little or no access to the internet.
  • Children need to be educated so they can persuade elders to get vaccinated and the elders need to be educated to ensure everyone is vaccinated.

As with polio, so with Covid-19

Have you visited that little boy down the road who has polio? Of course you haven’t because vaccinations wiped polio out. There has been nobody ill with polio in this or any other part of Europe since 2002.

In 2014, Bangladesh was also declared a polio free country. During an effort that started in 1979 nearly 1 billion doses of oral polio vaccine were administered to children under the age of 5 years.

As with polio, so with Covid-19. It can only be wiped out if everyone gets vaccinated.

The UK polio vaccination programme continues to this day, a single dose for children that protects them from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and Hib disease (Haemophilus influenzae type b).

Maybe one day the Covid-19 vaccination will be added to this list.

For the moment it is the duty of every adult in our borough to protect themselves, their families and their communities and get vaccinated.

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