Many in the Black community more likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine if they had more information

The COVID-19 vaccine is an essential piece of the puzzle to keeping safe and combatting the Coronavirus pandemic and so it is important to listen and understand the perspectives of communities who are hesitant about the vaccine.

Views of the Black African Community in Camden

Healthwatch Camden surveyed 90 members of the African Health Forum over February 2021 to learn more about this community’s views on the COVID-19 vaccine. The African Health Forum provides support and services to Black communities in Camden and Islington, with a focus on African communities.

English was not the first language of over half of the responders and this was the first time the vast majority had been asked their views on the Covid-19 vaccine. 

Emerging findings from the survey suggest that levels of vaccine hesitancy are similar to those found in national studies, with nearly three in five indicating that they were ‘unlikely’, or ‘unsure’ about getting the Covid-19 vaccine.

Reasons for hesitancy

The most common reason people were unlikely or unsure about getting the vaccine was because they wanted to know more about the ingredients of the vaccine (over one-third of responders). Additionally, more than 1 in 4 didn’t think it was safe, were concerned about the potential side-effects, or didn’t trust the intentions behind the vaccine.

“I personally don’t think the vaccine is safe.”

“I’m unsure about the side effects of the vaccine.”

“I don’t trust what’s going on in the world these days.”

Chikwaba Oduka, leader of the African Health Forum said:

“There is a gap in the information on the Coronavirus vaccine, especially for the Black community. In the beginning, there was no explanation given by the government during the lockdown announcement.

There were no platforms for the African community to receive any information and most of the information was provided by people who didn’t look like them.”

Access to information

When asked how much information they had about the COVID-19 vaccine, over one-third of responders from the African Health Forum said they knew ‘very little’ or ‘no information at all’. Another one-third of responders said they knew a ‘moderate amount’. The most common source of COVID-19 information among these communities was social media.

Chikwaba Oduka said:

“Many [members of the Black African community] thought that the Coronavirus wouldn’t affect them. They started listening to the negative information about the Coronavirus on social media, this led to most taking an extremely negative stand on anything to do with the Coronavirus. The community need facts on the COVID-19 vaccine to counter the negative ones that they have already received to make informed decisions about the vaccine.”

Why people took the vaccine

For those who would take the vaccine, or already had one dose, there were many reasons cited.

  • Three in five wanted to protect people who were vulnerable or at higher risk.
  • About half wanted to protect themselves, protect their friends and family, or help society get back to normal.
  • Other common answers were that a medical professional recommends getting the vaccine, it will help the NHS, it feels like the responsible thing to do, and because it will allow people to safely visit friends and family.

Encouraging uptake of the vaccine

Of those who were hesitant about the vaccine, one-third said they would reconsider their decision if they had more information. One in five said they would reconsider if they saw a health professional getting the vaccine first.

There is a historic lack of trust amongst this population and governmental bodies. By taking the time to reach out to communities without judgement and listen to their views, these relationships can slowly improve.

Chikwaba Oduka says,

“We are concerned that the pandemic may label and target certain groups of people, which can lead to discrimination and racism including being blamed for the spread of the virus.”

She believes that most of the reasons behind vaccine hesitancy can be rectified by accurate COVID-19 provided from a trusted source and that there is a way forward to convince Black communities to take up the vaccine:

“We need to answer [the Black community’s] fears, questions, and myths and then provide facts on the COVID-19 vaccine. They need factual information to make informed decisions.

[Local authorities] need to support and work with voluntary organisations from those communities. This will help, because they speak the languages, they practice the same religion and culture. They know where to find them especially those who are still hard to reach.

Religion is very important to most people in the community. Most congregants listen to their leaders and value what they think. Faith leaders must also be educated about the facts on the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Healthwatch Camden will be sharing these emerging findings and the final report with the Vaccine Coordination Group chaired by Camden Council and other local authority and NHS stakeholders. We will continue to work with these groups and partners to address gaps in information.

Healthwatch Camden held a COVID-19 Vaccine Q&A Session on 16th February 2021. Below are some of the most common questions from members of the African Health Forum and corresponding answers from trusted local GPs.

Question 1: How were the vaccines developed so quickly, and is it safe?

Dr Ammara Hughes: This vaccine hasn’t been rushed. It has gone through all of the safety checks and has been approved by the MHRA, the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. Having worked in [Bloomsbury Practice] hub, where we have been vaccinating since the middle of December, we haven’t had any serious reactions or any adverse effects. This vaccine is very safe.

Question 2: What are the side effects and long-term impacts of the vaccine? Will it affect my existing health conditions, and is it painful?

Dr Ammara Hughes: It’s not a painful jab. It is not more uncomfortable than having the flu vaccine. The side effects are very mild. You might have a slightly sore arm, probably for the next day or so. Some people have reported feeling tired and a mild fever. Anybody with a long-term condition should absolutely have the vaccine because they are more at risk of Covid-19 than somebody without a long-term condition. There are no ingredients in these vaccines that suggests we should be worried about any adverse long-term effects, so please come forward for your vaccine.

Question 3: Ethnic minority groups have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Due to issues of systemic racism and bias, data has shown these communities are more hesitant to get the vaccine, what would you say to these people?

Dr Frances Baawuah: It’s important to recognize that the effects of racism and the social determinants of health are intertwined. What’s becoming apparent is that the people who need the vaccine the most are the group that seems to be warier of it. This is due to the spread of misinformation. I would say to people who are hesitant or who are misinformed, you really need to fact check. Seek help, look on informed websites. If there’s something that you find, fact check it with somebody who is knowledgeable and make sure that the source of information is reliable.

Question 4: What are the vaccines made of?

Dr Ammara Hughes: There are no biological products or virus particles in the vaccines. There are no blood products, no animal products, and no human products in them. There is no pork, gelatine, animal blood, or organisms of any kind in the vaccine. Vaccines are made in the lab, so there are no live ingredients in them.

For more information on the COVID-19 vaccine Q&A, please see the full recording and transcript on our website.

Additional COVID-19 Vaccine Resources

This blog is part of a larger report on the views of the COVID-19 vaccine among BAME communities. There may be additional views from Black communities that are not included in this blog but will be included in the final report.