Health chiefs in the London borough with some of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the country today warned they were facing a “significant” problem from people refusing the vaccine.
Newham has the second largest number of coronavirus cases in London with 1,406.3 per 100,000 people. It has seen 442 coronavirus-related deaths registered up until January 1 and almost 5,000 new cases were recorded last week.
But Jason Strelitz, director of public health in Newham, said local NHS staff had become concerned about the “uptake and pace” of the vaccine rollout since it started in December.
They have enlisted the help of an army of 450 “Covid health champions” who are battling misinformation about the jab.
“It is a slow start,” said Mr Strelitz. “We have vaccinated in all of our care homes but we are concerned about uptake and pace. We are already getting information from our local NHS partners about a significant number of people not taking it up.”
Newham, which is home to the ExCel Centre — one of seven English vaccination “superhubs” — is the most ethnically diverse area in the UK and one of the most deprived.
A study released by the Royal Society for Public Health last month found that 57 per cent of people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds were likely to accept a Covid-19 vaccine, compared to 79 per cent of white respondents.
However, BAME respondents were also “especially receptive to offers of further health information” from professionals, the study found, and over a third said they would be likely to change their minds if given more information – almost twice as many as the 18 per cent of white people who were initially unwilling to get the jab.
The poll also revealed significantly more hesitancy about the vaccine among lower income groups, with just 70 per cent of lowest earners likely to say yes to the jab compared to 84 per cent in the highest income bracket.
Newham enlisted the help of hundreds of volunteers from different backgrounds in June after the borough was hit particularly hard during the first wave of the pandemic.
Mr Strelitz said the council realised it needed to “strengthen community connections” in order to get across the complex, ever-changing advice from central Government and give legitimate information about testing and vaccines.
The “Covid health champions” are now in local Whatsapp and social media groups trying to counteract misinformation about the virus and speaking to people who have been posted warnings against the vaccine.
Mr Strelitz said: “In Newham the average age of Covid deaths has been lower because of heath inequalities we have here.
“We are under no illusion there is a job to convince people in some of our communities. It is going to be a challenge. We are in the early days but we have seen from our champions that there is misinformation being spread on social media and even posted through letter boxes, completely unfounded warnings about the vaccine.
“We are having to do a lot of work around this. But the encouraging thing is they are not all committed anti-vaxers. There are people who are worried about how quickly the vaccine has been produced and possible side effects, so we are trying to get across as much factual information as we can to them.”