BISHOPS have joined an NHS-backed campaign urging black and minority-ethnic (BAME) communities in the UK to disregard misinformation about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine and to accept it when it is offered.
The Give Hope Campaign, launched on Sunday by the church network YourNeighbour, encourages Christians to start conversations with their neighbours and communities about the vaccine to dispel misapprehensions about its safety.
The campaign is being supported by the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, and the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, as well as representatives of the Salvation Army and the Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Evangelical, and Black-majority Churches across the UK.
Speaking directly to the BAME community, Bishop Hudson-Wilkin, said: “When you are offered the opportunity to get your COVID vaccination, I want you to take it. There are distracting voices in our black and minority-ethnic communities spreading doubt and alarm. And, while I understand the fear and concern, listening to those voices alone will rob us of the need to live flourishing lives with our families and friends.
“These vaccines offer us a path through the pandemic, giving us hope, strength and the chance of safety. If the vaccine was good enough for Her Majesty, then it is good enough for us.”
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh — both in their nineties — were vaccinated last month. About 500,000 people are being vaccinated every day, in centres including some larger churches and cathedrals (News, 21 January); 90 per cent of over-75s have received one dose of the vaccine, either the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech versions, which offer between 70- and 90-per-cent protection from the virus and were recently reported to reduce greatly the risk of transmission. Second doses are being delayed to allow more people to have some protection.
The take-up of the vaccine is reportedly lower among ethnic-minority groups, however. A recent survey of 2000 UK adults conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health found that more than three-quarters (76 per cent) of people overall would willingly have a Covid vaccination — but the figure fell to 57 per cent for respondents from minority-ethnic backgrounds.
YourNeighbour is working with behavioural scientists to understand better the complexities of vaccine hesitancy and how to build trust and acceptance of the vaccine in communities. Church leaders, particularly in the black community, are being encouraged to talk to their congregations to rebut disinformation, quell fears, and give hope to hasten the end of the pandemic.
The co-founder of YourNeighbour, Russ Rook, explained: “By helping to communicate directly with hard-to-reach groups that may miss out, facilitating clear and kind conversations with some who may be reticent and providing practical support to those who need it, UK churches are playing a vital role in our country’s recovery from Covid-19.”
The former Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, posted on social media a picture of himself receiving the vaccine on Tuesday. He said: “This is me being vaccinated by Nurse Christine with the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine this morning. Please! Please! I beseech us all to respond without delay when we are summoned to go and be Vaccinated. It is good for us all. THANK YOU.”
Representatives of the ecumenical network Churches Together in South London, which includes the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, issued a similar statement on Friday. “We know that some people have concerns and fears about the Covid-19 vaccination, and we do not underestimate these. Current reliable scientific advice is that the vaccine offers the best way to control the pandemic and help to save lives.
“Each of our Christian traditions allows for the vaccine to be received for these purposes. It is believed that the vaccine will reduce the impact of Covid-19 and lessen the pressure on the NHS. This is our prayer as we trust in God and commend the vaccine.”