A special task group, which was set up to understand why COVID-19 has disproportionally affected Swindon's BAME (Black and Asian Minority Ethnic) residents, has held its first meeting.
The task and finish group was formed following Swindon Borough Council’s latest Adults’ Health, Adults’ Care and Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee and will make recommendations for reducing the health impact of COVID-19 for Swindon’s BAME communities. The task group will also consider the impact of health services, social care and housing in its discussions and recommendations.
Councillors and other members of the group agreed to a number of objectives including scrutinising Swindon’s health and housing data to identify and address any re-occurring factors in order to reduce health inequalities caused by COVID-19.
It is also hoped that by understanding the barriers which may be preventing the BAME community from coming forward to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the group can help improve vaccination take-up.
The group also hope to dispel any myths around the vaccine and use BAME community leaders, alongside the Council, to encourage vaccination take-up.
BAME communities in Swindon account for approximately 15 per cent of the local population. They not only include those from Black and Asian ethnicities, but also those from non-British white backgrounds and other minority groups including Gypsies and Travellers.
As of 11 February, overall uptake for vaccination in cohorts 1-4 across the Bath, Swindon and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group area is 87 per cent and further work is currently being done to understand the data on vaccine uptake relating to inequality.
Vaccination is one of the many tools available to combat COVID-19, along with testing and following handwashing, face covering and social distancing guidelines.
Councillor Steve Heyes, chair of the task group, said: “The task group recognised that almost 90 per cent of residents in the four priority groups have been vaccinated in Swindon, which is excellent.
“We now want to encourage all our residents from the Black and Asian Minority Ethnic communities who are over their age of 65, those clinically vulnerable and those who work in health and social care when invited, to make an appointment for vaccination.”
Fellow task group member, Olawumi Ibitoye, said: “We all talk about normality and wanting to get back to our lives and social lives before COVID-19, however, for us to get back safely to the lives we are all longing for we all need to be vaccinated.
“It is paramount the BAME community takes on board the advice from the NHS as there is evidence the BAME community has been disproportionately affected by the virus, whereby the rate of infection and death rate are higher within the group.
“As a front-line worker, I have been working throughout lockdown supporting people in crisis. I have had my vaccination with no adverse reaction. There have been so many myths about the vaccine shared among the BAME community about the vaccine.
“I would like to encourage fellow BAME residents in the community to disregard all this negative information. I opted to be vaccinated to keep myself, family, colleagues and community safe, I urge everyone to do the same. This will help us save many more lives and protect our currently overwhelmed NHS.”
Gifty Tawiah, who also sits on the task group, added: “As someone who was born in Africa, I have seen at first hand the impact mass vaccination has had on reducing infant mortality from common diseases such as polio and TB.
“Mass vaccination is therefore crucial if we want to overcome this new threat from COVID-19. My mother has been vaccinated and I will happily get vaccinated when I get the call. The only way we can all be protected, is to get the vaccine.”
Steve Maddern, the Council’s Director of Public Health, said: “Nationally it is recognised that vaccine hesitancy is a concern, particularly for BAME communities. Misunderstandings around the COVID-19 vaccination can have an impact as communities may feel that the vaccine goes against their beliefs. We also know that those from BAME communities are less likely to take the opportunity to vaccinate but more likely to be affected by COVID-19.
“The Council, along with the newly-established BAME task group, and our ‘community connections’ group which includes community representatives and our NHS colleagues, are currently working to ensure that we work as a system to tackle vaccine hesitancy based on the evidence of what works.
“We know that getting into the heart of our communities is key to correcting incorrect information and dispelling any myths linked to the vaccine. The vaccines have been robustly tested and are safe for use. The current vaccinations in use also do not contain animal products or microchips!”