UK faith leaders crucial to vaccine uptake, minister says

UK faith leaders crucial to vaccine uptake, minister says
A person receives the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at an NHS vaccination centre in York, Britain, January 22, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 January 2021

UK faith leaders crucial to vaccine uptake, minister says

UK faith leaders crucial to vaccine uptake, minister says
  • Faith leaders will play a 'vital role' in ensuring vaccine uptake across the country, says UK’s communities secretary

LONDON: Britain’s Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has said that faith leaders will play a “vital role” in ensuring vaccine uptake across the country as he visited the UK’s first vaccination center to open in a mosque.

Jenrick’s comments come amid growing fears that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Britons are rejecting vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) due to conspiracy theories being spread on WhatsApp and social media platforms.

A study by the Royal Society for Public Health found that just 57 percent of BAME people would take the vaccine, compared with 79 percent of white Britons.

Jenrick met with the imam and other community members at the Al-Abbas Islamic Center in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, where a new vaccination center has been set up.

The minister said: “It is absolutely brilliant to see faith communities like this stepping up and playing their part in the vaccine program. We have to build trust, ensure that we counter misinformation and ensure that everyone, regardless of their faith, regardless of what community they’re from, gets access to the program.”

Imam Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, said some people who initially resisted getting a COVID-19 vaccine have now decided to get an inoculation because of the center opening at Al-Abbas Islamic Centre.

Asim, who is leading an initiative to get imams and mosques to tackle anti-vaccination conspiracy theories, said: “We are urging places of worship and community hubs to be used as vaccination centres to inspire confidence in communities.

“As an Imam, my message is simple: Do not trust fake news.”

He added: “Verify before you amplify. Taking the vaccine is currently the only available solution to defeating COVID-19, to save thousands of precious lives and be with our loved ones again.”

Jonathan Kitson, a fellow at the London-based Adam Smith Institute, told Arab News: “An urgent and broad vaccine rollout is needed to end this pandemic. If we are to successfully overcome the challenges of COVID-19, the government must ensure that all religious communities are given the vaccine.”

He added: “Faith leaders must challenge any conspiracy theories about vaccinations head on to prevent a limited rollout of inoculations.”

Dr. Stuart Ritchie, a lecturer at King's College London, told Arab News: "Despite a lot of the rumours circulating, the evidence shows that all the vaccines in the UK so far are safe and effective. The only way to put this pandemic behind us is if the vast, vast majority of people in the country get vaccinated — so getting the vaccine to all communities and minorities is absolutely crucial."

Jenrick said he hoped more vaccination centers would open up in cathedrals, synagogues and mosques: “Faith leaders are helping build trust in the community and saving lives by encouraging take-up of the vaccine.”

He added: “The more that we are able to do that, the quicker we will be able to lift these restrictions.”