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Covid-19: PM praises Islamic centre for debunking anti-vaccine myths as mosques host vaccine clinics

26th Feb 2021
Covid-19: PM praises Islamic centre for debunking anti-vaccine myths as mosques host vaccine clinics

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the Al-Hikmah Vaccination Centre in Batley, Yorkshire.
(Credit Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street)

Harun Nasrullah

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has praised the staff at Al-Hikmah Centre in Batley for their efforts in dispelling myths around Covid-19 vaccines. The Islamic centre, one of several mosques to turn their premises into pop-up clinics, has been vaccinating about 600 patients a day since it opened.

On a visit to the centre on February 1, Johnson said, “Spreading a sense of positivity about the vaccine” was vital.
Johnson said so far, 97 per cent of over-80s in Yorkshire had received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

However, there have been concerns that take-up of the vaccine has been low among Black and Asian communities and other ethnic minority groups. Johnson said to the staff at the Batley centre, “I thank them for the work they’re doing to dispel some of the nonsense about vaccines. I think it’s about spreading a sense of positivity about the vaccine, I think that’s what we want to see, and I think that’s working.”

Al-Hikmah Centre, believed to be the first mosque to open as a Covid-19 vaccination centre, started vaccinating people on December 17, 2020.

Nadeem Raja, from the Batley-based Indian Muslim Welfare Society, told The Muslim News that Al-Hikmah “delivered over 17,000 vaccines, including care homes, covering parts of Kirklees.”

He said that the community felt reassured “because we’ve been established for so long in this area, people have that trust and faith. Our mosques are very helpful, and they help us deal with any disinformation as well.”

However, Councillor Shabir Pandor, who represents Batley West, said Johnson’s decision to meet the staff and volunteers at the Al-Hikmah Centre was “too little, too late.”He said, “The Indian Muslim Welfare Society has done remarkable work in the fight against the pandemic, and I’d like to thank all the staff and volunteers who work there. They have shown community leadership and stepped up to the mark. However, the Prime Minister’s visit is too little, too late.”

The Al-Abbas Islamic Centre in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, has been vaccinating up to 500 people a day starting on January 21. Murtaza Master, Director of the Masters Group, which is administrating vaccine in Al-Abbas centre, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it applied for the centre to become designated vaccination hub as “the uptake in the BAME community is very low [and] in these communities there is a high risk of Covid-19.”

“We wanted to bring it home to them and embed it within the community, engage the local leaders and the local community so that they would have confidence in the whole scheme,” he said, adding that his “view would be that it is working.

“The [Al-Abbas Islamic] Centre is receiving loads of calls asking ‘Can I have the vaccination in this centre?’ The system doesn’t allow them to come directly. We put the appointments out and people just book on a first-come-first-served basis, provided they are eligible,” he said, adding that the centre is also seeing patients walk in asking for a vaccine — “which we can’t give unless spares left at the end of the day.”

The Imam of the Centre, Sheikh Nuru Mohammed, said he hoped it would help dispel false information that the vaccine was forbidden in Islamic law. “It will send a strong message to our, we are doing this to say a big ‘no’ to fake news and a big ‘yes’ to the vaccine,” Sheikh Nuru said. “Muslim scholars advise us to get the vaccine because the sanctity of life is important in Islam.”

Dr Rizwan Alidina, a trustee of the mosque and member of the Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group, said, “significance of the venue is evident with particularly the Muslim community being one of the communities with a bit of a lower uptake than we would otherwise have expected.” Central Mosque of Brent in Willesden Green has closed for prayers and has been chosen as a Covid-19 vaccination centre by Brent Council.

Councillor Ahmad Shahzad told The Muslim News, “The whole community is happy that the Mosque Management allowed the Mosque to be used for community good. I am particularly happy that Mosque’s officials, Dr Raja Amjid Riaz, Abdul Rauf and Zafar Iqbal are continuously offering Mosque centre for humanitarian work for the benefit of the whole community. I am happy to assist and support them in their good gestures.”

Vaccines were given at Sheffield-based Jamia Ghausia Centre in Firth Park to over 70s, people who are shielding and some health and care workers. The area’s Primary Care Network (PCN) has the highest number of BAME patients in the city, it said.

Dr Jennie Joyce, GP and Clinical Director of Foundry Primary Care Network said, “The mosque is the heart of the community. The Covid-19 virus has disproportionately affected the BAME community, so it is important we do everything we can to encourage people to be vaccinated. We know people are more likely to want to be vaccinated in places that are familiar to them and where they feel comfortable.

“I want to thank all the staff at the mosque who have been absolutely amazing in organising and promoting the clinic among the community. It’s been very helpful.” Walsall’s Aisha Mosque and Islamic Centre welcomed people of all ages and ethnicities to receive their coronavirus vaccination.

East London Mosque announced it “partnered up with local authorities to set up an on-premises vaccination clinic to build trust, combat misinformation and encourage take-up of the Covid-19 vaccine in Tower Hamlets.”
The clinic got the go-ahead from public health officials late on February 4, giving the mosque only one day to promote it to locals. “We used the devices, which allow people to hear the call to prayer in their homes to urge people to come and get vaccinated,” said Asad Jaman, who spearheaded the project.

Omar Din, Chief Executive Officer of AT Medics, which is running the clinic, said, “We are privileged to be partnering with East London Mosque to deliver vaccinations in the community. As local GPs, we’ve been very close to the challenges of patient vaccination uptake in Tower Hamlets, and whilst we’ve already vaccinated over 6,000 local people in the past two weeks, we hope this initiative will encourage many more patients to come forward when invited.”

Dispelling myths and promoting vaccination

Fifty-seven per cent of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people would be happy to have the coronavirus vaccine, compared with 79 per cent of white people, according to a poll released in December by the Royal Society of Public Health.

NHS England said it fears disinformation is causing some in the UK’s South Asian communities to reject the Covid-19 vaccine. Dr Vin Diwakar, NHS England regional medical Director for London, told a Downing Street press conference that some communities had “legitimate and understandable concerns about the vaccines.”

He said, despite it being a “safe and effective vaccine,” for some Asian and Black communities, there were “long-standing concerns” that “go back generations.” Dr Diwakar said some people were “told by their grandparents that experiments were done in the early part of the last century that unethical experiments were done way back in the 60s.”

Samara Afzal, 34, a GP at Netherton Health Centre in Dudley in the West Midlands, also shared a video in Urdu with her 35,000 Twitter followers to debunk some myths. She said some people had asked for a video to be sent directly to them, to forward it to sceptical loved ones via social tools like WhatsApp.

At her medical centre, Afzal estimates that around 40 to 50 people out of 1,000 have refused to be vaccinated when she had expected only one or two. “It’s still a fair amount of people that are saying no and obviously we haven’t even addressed the younger ones, so this is just the elderly, so I’m sure when it comes down to the younger ones, there’ll be a lot more that will say no,” she added.

Imams and most major Muslim bodies have also sent messages urging members of the community to get vaccinated.
Imam Qari Asim, Chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, is among those advocating that the inoculations are compatible with Islamic practices.

“We are confident that the two vaccines used in the UK, Oxford AstraZeneca and Pfizer, are permissible from an Islamic perspective,” he said. “The hesitancy, anxiety (and) concern are driven by misinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news and rumours.”

The British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) has produced a summary, and detailed position papers on the Pfizer and AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine, which are supported by the Muslim Council of Britain.
On its website, BIMA debunks almost 40 vaccine myths, including its ingredients, are prohibited in Islam (ḥarām), contain aborted foetal cells and are even used to chip-and-track the population.

Head Imam at East London Mosque, Shaykh Abdul Qayum, who himself is recovering from Covid-19, has posted an online message telling his congregation, “This pandemic has been a trial for humanity, but Allah reassures us in the Qur’an that after hardship comes ease. I have listened carefully to the advice of Muslim medical experts. Let us take the vaccine when it is offered to us and pray that, Insha’Allah, it brings us the benefit we seek. Our thoughts and prayers are with the many people who have lost loved ones, and we are grateful for the dedication and commitment of NHS and frontline workers who are helping those afflicted by Covid-19.”

Tower Hamlets Council is also holding Q&A sessions in different languages with residents and making videos directed at particular faith and ethnic groups. It has deployed teams of “Covid ambassadors” to talk to people on the streets about the virus and vaccine.

Aisha Mosque and Islamic Centre Vice-President, Tanveer Akmal, said, “Some people I’ve spoken to who are Muslim have said they heard the vaccination was ḥarām due to being made from gelatin from animals. However, we have worked over the last few months with the imam and volunteers to clear up this misconception through webinars and education and explained it is a community effort to have the vaccine.”

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