Views of people seeking asylum on the COVID vaccines.
By Dr. Julia Burne of Doncaster Conversation Club
If I’m offered the vaccine, I will say ‘Yes’. However, from informal remarks and comments, I know that my view is not shared universally.
To get a broader idea of how the vaccine is viewed by people seeking asylum, I have spoken to eleven people from the team of Health Volunteers at Doncaster Conversation Club (The local City of Sanctuary group).
I wanted to know their thoughts on having the COVID vaccine personally and also the likelihood that people from their communities would accept vaccination. There were diverse views and only 4 were sure that, if offered the vaccine today, they would accept. Even these 4 were also very aware that many people in their own communities would refuse.
Many people seeking asylum rely on information from YouTube, social media, the internet or from television stations in their home countries. Access to UK television is not readily accessible and not necessarily trusted. Some Health Volunteers told me that many people they know are ‘scared’ of having the vaccine.
Unfortunately, not all of the internet alternatives are reliable or trustworthy sources. There are films showing doctors, some from the US, expressing concern about having the vaccine – or videos of people having the vaccine followed by a devastating reaction. There are also videos about the possibilities of other substances being injected with the vaccine – substances which can decrease fertility or change behaviour or allow tracking of an individual. There are communities who believe the vaccine is ‘not right for them’ – people are not all exactly the same and that perhaps people from their background will react differently to the injection. There are concerns that the speed of development of the vaccine has compromised safety. There were suspicions caused by sudden changes in policy about the interval between doses of the immunisation. There are also concerns that people will be coerced into having it by threats of legal restrictions of freedoms for those who are not vaccinated.
I think many of these concerns will be held by individuals who have lived all their lives in Doncaster – and are not just held by people who have arrived more recently. I think all of these concerns are understandable – but I also find them worrying. I think that the divide between the health of those from an asylum-seeking background and those from the indigenous population will be increased if the injection is seen as just being for ‘older white people’. I have specific concerns about the safety of people from the asylum-seeking community. Many are living in HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupancy) where self isolation is not possible and maintaining cleanliness of communal areas is difficult.
I am also concerned that there does seem to be a greater risk of serious illness from COVID to people from a black, Asian or ethnic minority background. These two factors could combine to make people associated with City of Sanctuary groups like Doncaster Conversation Club both more likely to catch the illness and to have a less favourable outcome. This is only mitigated to some extent by the general ‘youthfulness’ of the group.
From my medical background, taking the vaccine seems to be a pragmatic way forward for the country as a whole – and for myself as an individual. Above all, from everything I know and have heard, I believe it to be as safe as any other vaccine. It is true that everyone is an individual and will react to any medication as an individual. No medication is absolutely safe – even paracetamol can cause problems. On the other hand, the risks of complications and even death from COVID are real too – including the risk of developing long COVID. There have been occasional reactions – but this is why people giving the vaccines do so in a controlled environment with trained staff and emergency medications in place. I am not aware of deaths among young people.
I think that listening to peoples’ fears is important. Personal views can be held deeply especially if that belief is shared widely within your own community and makes you part of that community. I think that it is important to have discussions about the vaccine – and being prepared to answer questions on it. I also think it is important that if you decide to have the vaccine it is important to talk about it and how you found it. This is something everyone from City of Sanctuary can be involved in.
Dr. Julia Burne
Huge thanks to Julia for this sensitive blog originally published in the Doncaster Conversation Club Newsletter “View from the Edge” no 74. February 2021.
Vaccinations are next to clean water and sanitation in terms of public health improvement and have saved millions of lives. In the 1950s hospital wards were full of children on iron lungs but thanks to vaccines, polio is now a thing of the past. There are also fewer deaf and blind people in the community due to the success of the MMR vaccine.
See also this video “If you could save someone’s life . . .” from Adil Ray OBE and other celebrities addressing #coronavirus vaccine misinformation, which may be worth sharing with people seeking sanctuary who are worried about the COVID vaccine.
And the open love letter from Lenny Henry aimed at black and Asian people who are vaccine hesitant.
see also the Doctors of the World Vaccines for All campaign.
Doctors of the World continue to campaign for equal access to vaccinations against Covid, and to work with NHS colleagues to promote resources. Subscribe to their mailing list here to receive all latest resources and news. Digital copies of NHS England access cards re entitlement to GP registration can be downloaded here; a twitter graphic on access to registration can be found here, a leaflet explaining how to register with a GP is here.
Here is an NHS Video on the vaccine in Arabic and translations on Vaccine information from Doctors of the World.