LONDON — Minority communities in Britain have long felt estranged from the government and medical establishment, but their sense of alienation is suddenly proving more costly than ever amid a coronavirus vaccination campaign that depends heavily on trust.
With Britons enjoying one of the fastest vaccination rollouts in the world, skepticism about jabs remains high in many of the very communities where Covid-19 has taken the heaviest toll.
“The government’s response to the Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities has been rather limited,” said Dr. Raja Amjid Riaz, 52, a surgeon who is also a leader at the Central Mosque of Brent, an ethnically diverse borough of North London. “Those people have not been catered for.”
As a result, communities like Brent offer fertile ground for the most outlandish of vaccine rumors, from unfounded claims that they affect fertility to the outright fabrication that the shots are being used to inject microchips.
hit disproportionately hard both by the pandemic itself and by the lockdowns that followed, many local leaders like Dr. Riaz have taken it upon themselves to act.
Some are well-known and trusted figures like religious leaders. Others are local health care workers. And still others are ordinary community members like Umit Jani, a 46-year-old Brent resident.
Mr. Jani’s face is one of many featured on 150 lamppost posters across the borough encouraging residents to get tested for the virus and vaccinated, part of a local government initiative.
The goal is to reframe the community’s relationship with the power structure, and perhaps establish some trust.
second-highest rate of Covid-19 deaths in Britain.
One recent Saturday morning, Mr. Jani set out with another man to survey local residents, setting up a table by a convenience store as nearly a thousand people lined up outside a food bank nearby. The survey was about mental health services, but Mr. Jani took the opportunity to ask about the pandemic.
“Are you afraid to take the vaccine?” he asked one local man.
The man, speaking in Gujarati, a language native to India, said he wanted to take the vaccine, but first wanted to consult with his doctor because he feared an adverse reaction.
Despite this man’s concerns, Mr. Jani said he believed their efforts were making headway.
“It’s become less of a challenge to persuade people,” said Mr. Jani, who himself recently had his first shot.
The numbers appear to back that up: A survey led by Imperial College London and YouGov found that in February, almost 77 percent of people in Britain said they would take a vaccine if offered, up from 55 percent in November.
But other numbers make clear how far the country still has to go.
A government report found that vaccination rates in people 70 and older from early December to mid-March were lowest among the country’s Black African, Black Caribbean and Bangladeshi communities. It also noted that those living in deprived areas like Brent, where the poverty rate of 33 percent is slightly above London’s, were less likely to receive a shot.