London, United Kingdom – When Shabrez Ali, 29, of Bradford was a child, his mother was wary of vaccines.
“For a very long time, my mother didn’t want me to take beatings in primary and secondary school,” Ali, who is of South Asian descent, told Al Jazeera by phone.
He wasn’t sure why, but he guessed that “it could have been due to potential plots she might have heard in the past.”
Since the UK entered its first coronavirus lockdown in March, Ali, who suffers from an autoimmune disease, has barely left the house.
He had received a letter from the government urging him to “protect” because the immunosuppressive drugs he was taking made him vulnerable.
Now that the UK has launched a mass inoculation program, Ali hopes he can leave his bedroom more often.
But he is worried.
“I am already playing Russian roulette with the drugs I am currently taking,” he says. “In my opinion, a vaccine is just something else [to worry about] on top of that. “
Community care worker Mycall Isrell, who is of Caribbean descent, said he would consider getting the vaccine because it was a “moral and ethical” issue, to protect those he works with.
However, he has fears because of unethical medical experiments on black communities in the past.
“Any fear of vaccines and drugs and remedies is almost like it’s in black DNA,” he says.
For example, in 1932, the Tuskegee Syphilis study recruited African American men in exchange for free healthcare, but some participants died as part of the observational study and their family members were infected. .
In the mid-19th century in the United States, James Marion Sims, who is remembered as the “father of modern gynecology”, used slaves as medical guinea pigs, experimenting with surgeries without anesthesia.
“Real or imagined, the historical facts are here and they are still happening,” Isrell said. “They are shredded and destroyed like the Berlin Wall. But some of these structures are still in place. “
Havovie Bomanji, a 52-year-old man from the northern city of Bradford and of Pakistani descent, has had coronavirus.
But although she doesn’t have a spleen and is classified as extremely vulnerable, she won’t be lining up for the vaccine.
“My heart is broken over the loss of my livelihood, but the decision not to get the vaccine comes from years of great mistrust of the motives of big pharmaceutical companies,” she told Al Jazeera.
“I am very interested in strengthening the body’s immune system naturally and have done it for myself and my family.
“There should be full transparency on the list of vaccine ingredients to begin with. I am amazed at how eager and eager people are to be injected with the Lord Knows What, while pretending to be healthy eaters or on the bandwagon.
A poll by the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University in London found that just over a third of Londoners belonging to ethnic minorities – 39% – said they were likely to get vaccinated against 70% of whites in the capital.
“Reluctance towards vaccines should not be ruled out and may be due to a range of factors – rumors, speed of vaccine development, perception of risk, discrimination – but the most important is trust,” Professor Sophie Harman, specialist in world politics. health at Queen Mary University, told Al Jazeera. “[It] risks a double tragedy: racial inequality in deaths from COVID-19 and potential racial inequality in vaccine use. “
Until August, more than a third of critically ill COVID-19 patients were from ethnic minorities. And black African men are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white men.
While many Asian and black families mourn the loss of loved ones, there is some hesitation among those who accuse the government of not properly investigating why their communities have been hit the most.
While many experts have said discrimination played a role, a scientist who briefed the government in October said “structural racism is not a reasonable explanation” for the increased death rate.
Of the nearly 362,000 people who volunteered for the NHS COVID-19 vaccine registry, only 4.3% were Asian and 0.5 were black.
MPs Kemi Badenoch and Naz Shah, who are black and Asian respectively, have participated in coronavirus vaccine trials to encourage more volunteers from ethnic minorities, who are currently under-represented.
When asked, will MPs be the first to test the vaccine?
– Deputy of Naz Shah (@NazShahBfd) December 2, 2020
Winston Morgan, a reader in toxicology and clinical biochemistry at the University of East London, said vaccine reluctance is fueled by “structural racism, both current and historical.”
“There is a clear lack of confidence based on the lived experiences of many members of these communities, so you don’t hear assurances about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, or they don’t believe the data on the vaccine. safety and efficacy apply to them, ”he told Al Jazeera.
Some minority communities are cautious because they view the disturbing statistics as evidence of inequalities in health.
Black women, for example, are five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.
Meanwhile, misinformation is circulating online about the 5G mobile networks fueling the virus, claims of vaccine trial volunteers who died after taking the hits, and conspiracy theories that people will be microchipped when they accept vaccines. .
According to the London-based Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), social media companies allow the so-called “anti-vaxxer” movement to spread lies on their platforms.
Since last year, according to the CCDH, anti-vaxxers on social networks have increased their number of subscribers by about eight million people.
But Saroj Bhattacharya, professor of medical history at York University, said national and international institutions are responsible for building trust between ethnic minority communities.
He advised governments to adapt to “economic and cultural complexities,” adding that in terms of polio and smallpox vaccines, these types of failures were as “powerful as any misinformation disseminated by anti-vaccination lobbies. “.
“The resistance was not just linked to ‘disinformation’,” he explained. “It was also the lack of official clarity on the evidence for the efficacy and safety of vaccines, a general disinterest among program managers in the broader socio-economic difficulties affecting communities, and an inability to to create respectful and trustworthy links with disadvantaged and ethnic minority groups.
As the UK prepares to roll out the vaccine further, after prioritizing older people and healthcare workers, some campaigners have said the government should ensure that vaccine awareness campaigns reach those who are on the margins of society.
Any lack of confidence is rooted in lived experiences as opposed to conspiracy theories, Morgan said, leading to a “circular situation” in which few ethnic minorities have signed up for vaccine trials.
“The only way to regain confidence is for the government to accept that structural racism plays an important role in poorer medical outcomes,” he said, “which it does not want to do.”