Why the BAME community isn’t taking up the Covid-19 vaccine

Vaccine hesitancy is prevalent amongst BAME communities. Dr Helen Lawal answers questions and concerns about the Covid-19 vaccination within the Black community

Though BAME communities are more likely to be adversely affected by Covid-19, there is lower take up of the vaccine among the very communities that should be protected. We posed some common questions and concerns to GP, health coach and television presenter, Dr Helen Lawal.

Dr Helen Lawal | Image by Dave Lawal @Lawal_footage

“As a GP, I am delighted we have the Covid-19 vaccines and there is finally a path out of this awful pandemic that has devastated so many lives within our communities. I wasted no time in getting the jab to protect myself and those around me. However, I do know some people are worried about vaccines, and it’s completely normal to have concerns about the safety of new medicines. It’s crucial to get any questions you may have answered by a qualified health professional so you can make an informed decision about whether you have the vaccine or not.”
Here, I’ve answered some of the most common questions submitted by
Black Beauty & Hair readers:

Can the Covid-19 vaccine make you infertile?

I know that the prospect of something interfering with your fertility can be frightening. However, claims that the Covid-19 vaccines can affect fertility are unfounded. One theory, which suggests that the spike protein, an element of the vaccine that stimulates the production of antibodies, could lead to infertility is not supported by evidence. Most people who get Covid-19 will develop antibodies from the spike protein and there have been no reports of infertility as a result.

You don’t need to avoid getting pregnant after having the vaccine. There’s also no need to stop breastfeeding after taking the jab. If you are pregnant you will have to wait a little longer before you’re invited to get a vaccine. This isn’t because there are any known risks for pregnant women but because more research is needed to know how pregnant women respond to the vaccine. If you are pregnant and have an underlying health condition or are working on the frontline in any capacity, you may decide to have the vaccine. You should discuss the matter with your GP.  

Is Bill Gates responsible for the pandemic and do the vaccines contain microchips to track us?

There is lots of fake news circulating about the vaccine and Covid-19, including that Bill Gates is responsible for the pandemic and that the vaccines are being used to inject people with microchips. With so many lives at risk, it is important that we all take time to verify the information we receive. If you have any doubts about claims being made about the virus or the vaccine, do not share them. Instead, speak to your GP or another healthcare professional so that you can get the facts.

Will the vaccine alter my DNA?

The vaccines will not change your DNA. Each of the three vaccines approved for use in the UK work by training your immune system to tackle Covid-19. They do this by stimulating the production of the spike protein which then causes our bodies to make antibodies. The Pfizer BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines are both mRNA vaccines. This technology does not interact with the nucleus of our cells, which is where our DNA is, and doesn’t modify it either. Neither does the Oxford AstraZeneca jab, which is an adenovirus vector vaccine that uses a harmless, weakened version of a virus to stimulate an immune response.

Do the vaccines contain pork products and alcohol?

None of the Covid-19 vaccines contain any pork derivatives or any products from any animals. So, if for whatever reason you want to avoid consuming any animal products, you can still take the vaccine. The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine does contain some ethanol but the amount is very small, similar to the levels found in some breads. People who have a history of severe allergies to any of the ingredients or components in the jabs, should not take them. Before you get the jab, a vaccinator will discuss this with you. You can also speak to your GP to find out if your allergies mean you should not take the vaccine.

How do we know the vaccine is safe to use?

It’s understandable that many of us want to know how safe the medicines we take are. The Covid-19 vaccines have been developed quickly but that’s not because corners have been cut. The speed in which the vaccines have been developed is a result of a number of factors. These include a global scientific effort to save lives, billions of pounds of funding being allocated to support the creation of safe and effective vaccines and thousands of people volunteering to take part in clinical trials. Some stages of vaccine development were also conducted concurrently and because they overlapped, this sped up the time it usually takes to complete the process.

We know that the vaccines are safe to administer because they have undergone the same robust testing that all other medicines we use do. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), an independent body which approves all medicines and vaccines in the UK, has analysed each Covid-19 vaccine to make sure they are safe and that they provide significant protection from the virus.

Should we be concerned about long term side effects?

Because these vaccines haven’t been around for years, some people may be concerned about what side effects could arise in future. With vaccines, side effects tend to occur quite quickly. That’s why we already know what minor and temporary side effects some of us may experience, for example tiredness and achiness after the jab. It’s very rare for new side effects to arise years later.

It’s also important to note that before the Covid-19 vaccines were approved, they were trialled with tens of thousands of volunteers and no significant side effects were observed. It’s highly likely that any new side effects would have been picked up in the clinical trials. Since the vaccines have been made available to the general public, millions of people have had the vaccine and no long-term complications have been reported. Even though the safety of the vaccines has been independently assessed, the MHRA continues to monitor them as they are rolled out to ensure they continue to be safe to use.

Evidence shows that for people who are eligible to receive the vaccine, and don’t have any health reasons to stop them from doing so, the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risk of remaining unprotected against Covid-19.

Are black people being used as guinea pigs to test the vaccine?

Research has found that there are multiple reasons black people are disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. These include types of employment, such as working on the frontline, and the high prevalence of certain underlying health conditions within our community. Because frontline health workers and people with comorbidities are among those being prioritised for the vaccine, black people most at risk are being offered the protection they need now but they are not being prioritised solely because of their race.

There’s a perceived racial bias in how black people are treated by the medical establishment ie, a belief that our skins are thicker and we don’t feel pain as much as white people, with the result that we are often under-diagnosed for pain relief etc. Why should we trust healthcare professionals now?

I understand some people may be concerned whether they will receive the right treatment because of their skin colour. These worries may be based on your own personal experience or reporting of the negative experiences and outcomes some black people have with the healthcare system. I can empathise with these concerns. I was reassured to learn that the trials for the Covid-19 vaccines featured good representation of black volunteers, so, there is evidence of the safety and efficacy of the vaccines across different ethnicities.

The BAME community has been historically mistreated by those in authority. How can we trust the government?

It’s no surprise to me that some people within our community deeply distrust the government. I recognise the reasons for this, but the government did not create any of the Covid-19 vaccines. Each one has been created by teams of expert scientists and have been independently assessed for safety and efficacy. I understand that many people also lack confidence in scientists and pharmaceutical companies as well because of cases where patient safety has come second to making profits, but today there are numerous policies and procedures in place to safeguard us against unethical practices. 

The Covid-19 vaccines offer such great protection against the virus, so I’d encourage everyone to take it when they are invited to do so. If you have any more questions or concerns, please speak to a trusted health professional such as your GP, a pharmacist or visit gov.uk/coronavirus

The impact of Covid-19…

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