Two faith charities will be partnering with local councils to help correct misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccine in the communities they serve.
The UK Government announced on Monday that Near Neighbours will receive £1 million and Strengthening Faith Institutions will be awarded £1.15 million.
It’s part of a wider government scheme called “Community Champions" which will make £23 million available to councils in England to help dispel myths about Covid-19 and about the coronavirus vaccine, and boost take-up of the jab.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said it was being targeted at areas with plans to reach out to groups such as older people, disabled people, and people from ethnic minority backgrounds who are more likely to suffer long-term impacts and poor outcomes from the virus.
Senior NHS figures have previously expressed concern that people in some black and Asian communities are reluctant to take up the vaccine - either for religious reasons or past concerns about "unethical" experiments carried out in the last century.
Professor Francis Davis, a Christian professor of religion and public policy at Birmingham University and non-exec director for an NHS Trust, applauded the idea.
“It’s absolutely needed,” he told Premier. “Because if you go to the Sikh community in Birmingham, for example, the word has gone around the vaccines have all been developed on animals and therefore wouldn't be compliant with dietary laws. And then the word’s gone around the Catholic community that they vaccines have been developed by experimenting on fetal material, and so lots of BAME Catholics are resisting taking it.”
Officials said each of the 60 councils chosen to receive funding through the community champions scheme has developed plans to improve communications with these groups.
They include helplines, school programmes, workplace engagement, phoning those in at-risk groups as well as training sessions to help people provide information and advice.
The Government said: “Strengthening Faith Institutions and Near Neighbours will be supporting councils in working with grassroots organisations and community leaders, to ensure that communities understand how the pandemic is being tackled and feel empowered to take action to keep themselves safe”.
Prof Davis welcomed the government’s approach of going through local charities and initiatives.
“When you encounter this money locally, you won't encounter it as Michael Gove or Boris Johnson trying to persuade you to do something that you're cautious about,” he said.
“You'll encounter it as the leader of your local church coming and chatting to you, or someone that you trust in your youth group saying, ‘Hey, you know what, we've discovered that this rumour is going around and let's address that together.”
Prof Davis’ only worry is the funding won’t be enough. He said for the number of people the Government is trying to reach, the funding announced only amounts to half a penny per person.
He also thinks the scheme should have started a lot earlier.
“Many churches have been shut and so it's no wonder myths have emerged because there haven't been the resources to sustain some of the smaller churches to continue reaching out to their members while their church has been shut,” he added. “This money should have been there months ago… making sure these people were getting these messages well before Christmas. “
Listen to Prof Francis Davis interview here: