British Indian survey finds reluctance in community towards COVID-19 vaccines

Only 56 per cent of British Indians would take a vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and women fall within the significantly less likely to be open to a jab over fertility concerns, a new survey by a think tank led by Oxford University experts said on Thursday.

The research by the 1928 Institute, a platform created to research and reflect the views of British Indians as the UK’s largest ethnic minority group, follows concerns about a lower uptake of COVID-19 jabs among Britain’s ethnic minority populations and is calling on the authorities to fund a clear and concerted public health campaign tailored to the British Indian community.

Despite being one of the hardest hit communities by COVID-19, British Indians show reluctance in taking a vaccine. Much of this reluctance stems from the community saying they do not feel informed enough about the vaccine, its benefits and its impact, says the report entitled Vaccines, The Pandemic and British Indians’.

A clear and concerted public health campaign, tailored to our diverse community, to assuage doubts amongst British Indians is needed. An example of this would be campaigns in different languages and co-produced with community leaders and influencers, it notes.

The report covers the responses of over 2,320 British Indians over a period between July and December 2020.

The majority of respondents (56 per cent) overall responded as yes or absolutely yes to taking a COVID-19 vaccine, but the often selected response was “unsure” about taking a vaccine (31 per cent).

Both men and women expressed concerns that vaccine production has been rushed and that there may be potential unknown long-term effects, with women highlighting inadequate testing on women’s fertility and the impact on pregnancy.

“COVID-19 commonly elicits fever and low oxygen levels during pregnancy, both of which have been shown to cause birth defects in babies. A vaccine has the potential to negate this impact, however the impact of the vaccine itself has not been tested enough, said Dr Nikita Ved, Research Fellow at the University of Oxford and Co-Founder of the 1928 Institute.

The UK government must fund awareness campaigns to improve confidence around taking the COVID-19 vaccines, especially amongst British Indians and other BME (black and minority ethnic) groups. Community leaders and influencers must highlight that the vaccines are safe and dispel the misinformation being spread over WhatsApp, she said.

Other report findings indicate that the pandemic has had a considerable impact on the mental health of British Indians, with 39 per cent of respondents saying it has worsened their mental health, followed by 29 per cent worsened physical health.

COVID-19 is also found to result in new-onset diabetes in patients, which combined with the Indian community’s greater predisposition to diabetes and high COVID-19 infection rates, raises an alert of a brewing diabetes epidemic in the UK.

As a British Indian and a frontline healthcare professional, I know first-hand the devastation that COVID-19 has had on our community and those around us. We have been affected more than most, said Dr Ranj Singh, a National Health Service (NHS) doctor and award-winning TV presenter.

It worries me that despite this, many of us are still reluctant to follow guidance or get vaccinated. This needs to change, and that starts with trying to understand why. This overdue report goes a long way to finding out those reasons, and will be instrumental in helping us find the solutions we desperately need,” he said.

The survey also highlights related culturally-sensitive data, including on funeral rites, with a large majority of respondents wanting it to be made easier for families to opt for sustainable open-air cremations in line with Indian practices.

Traditional healthcare practices and Ayurvedic medicine were also flagged as important to a large number for their mental and physical well-being during the lockdown.

Ayurveda has been proven to help mental and physical health. This is not only relevant for the COVID-19 pandemic but for public health going forward. We need to decolonise healthcare and utilise millennia of wisdom and re-evaluate how we approach health and wellness. We need to adopt a more holistic attitude to healthcare, said Amarjeet Singh Bhamra, Initiator & Lead Secretariat of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Indian Traditional Science.

The results of the survey confirm recently published findings by the Royal Society of Public Health, which found that Asian communities were shown to be less likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine compared to white respondents.

It has led to several community-led drives within temples, gurdwaras and mosques to spread greater awareness around the safety of the vaccines being administered among those most at risk of dying from coronavirus.

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