By Julia Gregory, local democracy reporter
A Westminster GP made a heartfelt plea to help people who may be hesitant about getting the coronavirus vaccine, particularly those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups who may have been targeted with misinformation.
Dr Sheila Neogi, is a senior partner at the Marven Clinic in Pimlico and plays a key role in the vaccination programme in Westminster.
She joined the London director of Public Health England, Professor Kevin Fenton, Dr Sonya Abraham from the National Institute for Health Research, Serena Simon who chairs Westminster City Council’s BAME Network and BBC London presenter Eddie Nestor at an online event viewed by 1,000 people.
It comes as the UK reached the landmark of vaccinating 10 million older and clinically vulnerable people .
Research shows that whilst eight out of ten white Londoners say that they are likely to get the vaccine only 52 per cent of Asian Londoners and 32 per cent of black Londoners said they would get the vaccine.
However Asian communities in London suffered the highest death rates during the second wave of the pandemic, followed by Black communities.
The virus has highlighted inequalities and the higher risks of people who deal with the public in jobs such as retail, transport and healthcare.
Dr Neogi said:“I remember my first patient I lost from covid, she was 54 , she was from a minority group. She was called before her time.
What gets me is so many are called before their time.”
Lord Simon Woolley , the founder of Operation Black Vote who chaired the event said: “There are so many lies, myths and disinformation. I want to see a much greater uptake of this vaccine because we want to save lives.”
Here are some of the top questions people raised:
Why were we not prioritised before to be protected as we are disproportionately exposed to Covid? And, as we weren’t protected before, why are we the first to be offered the vaccine now?
Professor Kevin Fenton said: “The strongest risk is age. Within those age groups we want to ensure that everybody at risk gets the vaccine.”
“We are prioritising all communities but we are starting by age to have the greatest impact on this disease.”
It’s worrying to hear that pregnant women and kids are being advised not to take the vaccine. Why is this?
Professor Fenton said: “The trials were not done on pregnant women so as we now have the experience of the vaccine rolling out it’s a conversation between women who may be pregnant with their physicians on getting that advice.”
What would you say to people who are finding it difficult to balance conflicting NHS advice and advice from family and friends in other countries?
Dr Neogi said: “Ask yourself this – if you were living in this country when you had a sick child years ago did you ring your friends up or did you go to the doctor or did you go to the local hospital. Who did you trust? Because we’re the same people. Despite all this social media and other stuff that you hear, you used to trust the NHS. We’ve all had children here, we’ve all managed people here. So please trust us, we really are trying to help you.
What would you say to someone like my mother or my auntie who comes into your surgery and they’re a little bit worried about having this drug, because of historical and present day anxiety?
Dr Neogi said: “Consider this as an instruction booklet for your body to be able to fight this disease. That’s all it is, it’s not a drug, it’s not going to change you. It’s just giving your body the instruction booklet so that it can fight the disease. You’re going to be the one doing the work.
“You can stop yourself, your friends from catching this awful disease and dying.”
“If I didn’t believe in it I wouldn’t have given it to my parents-in-law, I wouldn’t have given it to myself or have it given to me. I wouldn’t have advised everyone I know. I have family in India and told them – ‘queue up for it, get it because you will live if you have this.
“Whereas if you don’t, if you get this and your family gets this, the outcomes speak for themselves. It is a tragic disease and it is just an instruction booklet.
“It’s not going to change who you are so please come forward and get the vaccine.”
Africans and Caribbean people are predisposed to sickle cell. What difference might that make with Covid-19 and the vaccine?
Dr Neogi said: “People with sickle cell disorder are in a high risk clinically vulnerable group. Their spleens often don’t work. The spleen is the organ you need to help you with immunity. If they catch Covid they can’t oxygenate themselves. They will go into crisis . It is a respiratory disease. Normally when sickle cell people have a cough, cold, chest infection they feel the effects of that.
“It is absolutely crucial that they come first. They are in the high risk groups, they are clinically vulnerable, they are being called now.”
When will data be published from the vaccine trial?
Dr Abraham said that a lot of data has been published .
She said the first phase is to bring the vaccine to market and look at safety and efficacy.
“The Medicines and products Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) reviews the data rigorously.
“What’s been amazing with Covid is a lot of people have got involved in trials, which meant we could accelerate it.”
Will we have to be vaccinated every year like we do the flu?
Dr Abrahams said: “It is potentially likely that as Covid mutates, we may need to change it. At the moment the vaccines we have seem to protect against the variant. It may be every year – but ask me next year.
Will the vaccine prevent us from transmitting Covid to others?
Up to the minute data shows, yes it will. The research is related to the AstraZenaca and Oxford vaccine which focused on the trial which looked at the efficacy.
Volunteers with no previous medical qualifications will be administering some of these vaccines. How can they do it safely?
“People who are trained to give the vaccine get online training verified by the NHS and are then supervised by experienced clinicians while they get to do a few vaccines. Once they have been supervised and signed off they can give vaccines. Qualified clinicians are always present at vaccination centres if there are any problems, said Dr Neogi.
If I’ve had coronavirus do I need to be vaccinated?
Dr Neogi said: “We are recommending if you have had Covid to have it – four weeks after a positive test.
Having the disease yourself will give you some immunity .
Please come forward and have the vaccine when called.
The government had an opportunity to do great things in this space. What would they be?
Eddie Nestor “Here is an opportunity to say ‘look we will give an amount of money if you prove to be positive to make sure that for the ten days that you have to isolate that you will be OK. It would at least go towards showing that ‘I care about you, I care what happens to you and I’m not going to leave you hanging’. Here is an opportunity to begin building that trust.”
How does the Government build trust with our communities?
Serena Simon said wholesale change is needed.
“We know that the impacts that have led to this disproportionate impact are many and varied so the solutions have to be across the board, employment, housing, education and health all have a significant part to play.
“Covid and last year showed us how communities can galvanise and come together and create absolutely anything out of nothing at all. We’ve got to work hand in hand with our communities, be courageous and we’ve got to do something different.
“The rebuilding from Covid cannot be going back to how it was for Black and Asian people pre-Covid.”
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