Don't 'be left out or left behind'

Unite welcomes comedian and actor Sir Lenny Henry’s appeal to African and African-Caribbean communities to take up the coronavirus vaccine

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Unite has welcomed comedian and actor Sir Lenny Henry’s recent open letter to African and African-Caribbean communities urging them to get their coronavirus jab.

The letter was signed by a series of Black celebrities, including actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, YouTube star KSI and actress Thandie Newton.

The open letter was released this week also as a short film, directed by Bafta-winner Amma Asante, featuring Sir Lenny alongside other celebrities such as Adrian Lester and Naomi Ackiehas, all calling on Black communities to take up the life-saving vaccine.

The letter read, “We don’t want you to be left out or left behind. While other communities are rushing to get the vaccine and millions have already been vaccinated, some black people in our community are being more cautious.

“You have legitimate worries and concerns and we hear that,” the letter continued. “We know that change needs to happen and that it’s hard to trust some institutions and authorities. But we’re asking you to trust the facts about the vaccine from our own professors, scientists and doctors involved in the vaccine’s development.

The letter hailed the “GPs not just from here in the UK but all over the world, including Africa and the Caribbean, many of whom are our relatives; many of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the people from this country from this pandemic”.

The letter also paid tribute to the “thousands who’ve volunteered to be part of vaccine trials so that we know [the vaccine] is safe and works for people of all ethnicities”.

Sir Lenny Henry’s open letter comes as new statistics show that Black Britons have significantly lower vaccine take-up rates than their white counterparts.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that the estimated vaccination take-up rate for people in England who have identified as being of Black African heritage stands at just under 58.8 per cent, which is the lowest rate among all ethnicity groups. Meanwhile, the estimated vaccination rate for those identifying as Black Caribbean stands at 68.7 per cent. In comparison, the estimated vaccination take-up rate for people in England identifying as white British stands at 91.3 per cent.

Commenting on the comparatively low take-up rates among Black Britons, Sir Lenny Henry said that there was “element of mistrust” in the system.

He noted that “certain institutions and authorities haven’t particularly done right by the black community in the past”.

Amma Asante, who directed the open letter film, told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme, “The most important thing for us was to put across a message that for all the divisions that exist, we deserve to be protected and our loved ones deserve to be protected. We don’t want to widen divisions and equalities that exist.”

Sir Lenny Henry’s appeal, which is endorsed by the NHS, comes just weeks after Unite launched its own ‘Get a Jab’ campaign, urging members to take up the vaccine and encourage others to do the same.

The union has produced a raft of promotional materials, including films for its million-plus membership across the UK, as part of the campaign.

Like Sir Lenny, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey emphasised the importance of encouraging vaccine take-up for people who may have concerns over the jab.

“We now have a role to play in promoting the uptake of the vaccine because we are only protected when we protect one another,” McCluskey said when launching Unite’s campaign.

“However, we know that some members may be worried about getting vaccinated. And there is incontestable evidence now that this is a disease which hits the low paid and vulnerable hardest, so we must support every effort to vaccinate these communities.”

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe hailed Sir Lenny Henry’s open letter.

“We at Unite welcome Sir Lenny Henry’s open letter encouraging people from African and African-Caribbean  communities to get their jab when they are called to do so,” he said. “I know personally that there is an understandable level of mistrust in our institutions among our community, many of whom are our members, who have for generations faced institutional racism and discrimination.  

“But we urge everyone to read the facts about the vaccines, which are safe and effective, and have gone through rigorous clinical trials, overseen by experts including Unite’s own members, for example our pharmacist members from our health sector who have supported these clinical trials,” Jarrett-Thorpe added. “Large-scale vaccine take-up will not only protect us as individuals but all our loved ones and our wider communities – it is an essential stepping stone in the road out of lockdown and we all have a role to play.”

“We urge our members to read our Unite Get a Jab campaign materials which present the uncontested facts about the vaccines and to encourage your friends, families and work colleagues to do the same.”

You can find out more about Unite’s Get a Jab campaign here.

By Hajera Blagg

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