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All must play part in vaccine breakthrough and not blame BAME and Muslim communities

26th Feb 2021
All must play part in vaccine breakthrough and not blame BAME and Muslim communities

Among all medical procedures, vaccination ranks at the forefront in lives saved and disabling illnesses prevented. The first vaccine is thought to date back to 10th century China through Edward Jenner, whose work is widely regarded as the foundation of immunology, as is the 19th-century father of modern microbiology, Louis Pasteur. Their guiding principles were revolutionary and contribute to what has become a pivotal tool in combating the Covid-19 epidemic.

After a series of colossal blunders, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is relying on vaccines to finally control the deadly virus that has, to date, cost more than 120,000 lives in the UK. Despite its tactless presentation as a global race at the expense of other countries the initial success of the UK roll-out has been staggering with more than 15 million of the most vulnerable people receiving their jabs, as part of the biggest inoculation programme the country has ever launched.

Uncharacteristically, Johnson has somewhat resisted gloating and triumphalism over what he described as “an unprecedented national achievement” as he issued a caution, warning that it was “no moment to relax” and is only the first step during the roll-out. Prematurely though the PM has said that he wants the current third lockdown to be the last, unable to resist a populist habit, he insisted he wants his planned relaxation of restrictions to be “irreversible”. Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has called for a “sustainable exit”.

It is a significant milestone that could prove to be crucial in the fight against the disease. From the outset, Johnson has insisted that everyone play a role and he is right. However, it should not be used to blame others when ill-thought-out policies have failed. With multi-billion pound contracts handout out to private companies, some alleged to be Tory friends and donors, there has been scepticism that there have been other agendas too. However, it has been too easy to scapegoat especially ethnic minorities and in particular Muslims often in scare stories when the reverse has been true.

Whilst it is true that fake news has deterred some ethnic and Muslim minorities from taking the vaccine, the main culprit is the failure of the Government to reach these communities. There has not only been a shortage of vaccines in deprived areas but also the Government has failed to roll-out the vaccines.

Where there have been local initiatives like Al-Hikmah Centre in Batley, which Johnson visited weeks after it was established, Muslims in the area flocked into the centre for vaccination vindicating the argument that we take the vaccines to such places. There is no point in the NHS texting people to attend vaccine hubs where they can’t reach due to vast distances and many people in deprived areas don’t have WhatsApp.

Only now, after hundreds of people from the BAME communities have died of Covid-19 infections are the Tories waking up. The Government has rejected pleas to include people from BAME communities to be prioritised for vaccination. According to various data, infection and mortality rates are higher in the BAME communities than in the white communities and still, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has excluded ethnic minorities in their priority list, they are not even mentioned in their list.

The Government should support more localised vaccination hubs and consider sending mobile hubs too to reach deprived areas where high percentages of BAME communities live. Regardless of the mixed messages, the Prime Minister went out of his way to praise Muslims during a visit to Al-Hikmah Centre in Batley, one of several mosques to turn their premises into pop-up clinics as part of the vaccination programme. The staff is working to “dispel some of the nonsense about vaccines.” Instead, they were “spreading a sense of positivity about the vaccine said… I think that’s what we want to see, and I think that’s working”.

Disinformation throughout the pandemic has been systemic, thanks largely to the anti-vaxxer movement, which has exploited legitimate concerns about inoculations developed and approved so quickly for emergency use. However, this should be separated from the general disruptive campaign, some of which may have political agendas based upon falsehoods. Sections of ethnic minorities, including Muslims like in the rest of the population need their concerns addressed, but the two should not be banded together for other purposes.

There was great news this month from the independent regulator that confirmed the safety of the two main Covid-19 vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech and the Oxford University/AstraZeneca) being used in the UK. Both vaccines met the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency strict standards, which ruled that the vast majority of side effects were “mild and short-lasting, reflecting a normal immune response to vaccines, including a sore arm and fatigue.”

The World Health Organization’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization has also issued interim recommendations for use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for all.

The UK, indeed the world, is at an important juncture in combating the coronavirus largely based upon the success of the vaccines. If everyone is in it together, Johnson’s Government must also realise how vital its role is to ensure the opportunity is maximised and not squandered by its previous inept performances.

Johnson has insisted that he has done everything he can minimise the fallout in the country, which is virtually the worst in the world. He must ensure that it is the case if the scourge of Covid-19 is to be ever purged.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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