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UK News

'People listen to faith leaders more than politicians': Sir Keir Starmer working with churches to tackle vaccine misinformation

by Tola Mbakwe

Sir Keir Starmer has told Premier Christian News that faith leaders are vital in encouraging Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities to take the Covid-19 vaccine.

Amid low-confidence about the coronavirus vaccine among ethnic minorities, Labour is partnering with church leaders as part of its Let's Vaccinate Britain campaign. 

Sir Keir told Premier church leaders can be more effective than politicians in increasing the take-up of the vaccine. 

"I have been struck by how much people have turned to faith in a stronger way than before and bigger numbers than before," he said. 

Sir Keir added: "I'm a big believer in faith and the importance of faith. I think particularly in a pandemic, there is a role of leadership in faith. Communities will listen to faith leaders in a way that they may not necessarily listen to politicians and others. I think it's very important, therefore, that faith leaders play their part, and I think they are. 

"There are so many examples of churches and different faiths pulling together, whether that's provision of food and provision of shelter, checking-up on each other, looking after different communities. Now, with the vaccine, I think it's a very powerful thing, and we should encourage as many faith leaders to do so. And I know they're doing it and we're grateful to them for doing it."

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.

Meanwhile, misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic and the vaccines on the internet is contributing to the distrust people have. 

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner and shadow equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova held a virtual roundtable meeting with Black faith and community leaders in the West Midlands last week to discuss the role they can play in promoting the vaccine and tackling anti-vaccine disinformation.

Acknowledging the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities, Sir Keir reiterated calls for a government plan to ensure the vaccine is rolled out equitably. 

He called for daily data showing the progress of the roll out across people from different ethnic backgrounds and an analysis of the impact that pre-existing health inequalities are having on lower uptake amongst some communities. 

Sir Keir also wants urgent legislation to tackle anti-vaccine content, including financial and criminal penalties for companies, such as social media sites, that fail to act to tackle it on their platforms.

"Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities have suffered enormously during this pandemic," he added. 

"The disproportionate impact of Covid-19, rooted in structural inequality, continues despite repeated calls for Government action. 

"We are in a race between the virus and the vaccine. If we all pull together, we can win. We will promote the vaccine, work with community and faith leaders and encourage all our members to play their part."

On Monday, the Government announced it was making £23 million available to councils in England to help counter misinformation 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. 

Officials said each of the 60 councils chosen to receive funding have developed plans to improve communications with these groups.

Two faith groups are part of the Government's scheme. 

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