EU health chiefs warn of low vaccination rates in migrant groups

Syrian and Iraqi-born people among those with low uptake

A woman receives a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the refugee camp of Mavrovouni in the Greek island of Lesbos on June 3, 2021. / AFP / Manolis Lagoutaris
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Covid vaccines should be handed out in homeless shelters and refugee centres to increase vaccination rates among migrant groups, European health chiefs have said.

Governments are also urged to use local phrases, humour and cultural references to counter vaccine hesitancy.

The advice from the EU's European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention came in a report highlighting low vaccination rates among some minority groups.

Concerns have been raised that misinformation and vaccine hesitancy among minorities could hamper the success of immunisation programmes.

In the UK, uptake has been lower among Muslims and Buddhists, people of Pakistani and African origin, and people with limited English skills.

In Norway, a study found that only half of Iraqi-born seniors had received a shot, compared with more than 90 per cent of Scandinavian-born people.

Barely a third of Syrian-born healthcare workers were vaccinated, well below the level of coverage among Norwegian-born staff.

In Sweden, only 66 per cent of seniors born in North Africa were vaccinated, compared with 95 per cent of those born in the Nordic country.

The 26-page report on protecting Europe’s migrants from Covid-19 said language difficulties could make them more vulnerable to misinformation.

Falsehoods which circulated in the UK included the belief that migrants were “guinea pigs” for the vaccine, or that Covid-19 was a “Western disease”.

The report said governments should seek to communicate with migrant groups through local radio stations and in bilingual pharmacies.

Governments should “tailor messages to communities, using local phrases, humour, cultural references and values,” it said.

High-risk accommodation including crowded housing, homeless shelters and reception centres “should be given consideration when deciding upon priorities for vaccination”.

Minorities at high risk from Covid

In addition to lower vaccination rates, studies have shown minority groups at higher risk of illness and death from Covid-19.

A study by the UK's statistics authority showed last month that Muslims died at a significantly higher rate than other religions.

In a finding described as unexplained by researchers, Muslim men were at higher risk even once other likely factors were accounted for.

These were age, location, social deprivation, occupation, living arrangements and certain underlying health conditions.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week praised the role of Britain's Muslims in encouraging vaccine uptake.

Mr Hancock praised Muslims for “working as trusted voices within their communities and particularly in Ramadan to ensure vaccine uptake”.

He was speaking at a vaccine confidence summit held under the auspices of the UK’s G7 presidency, at which Britain announced the launch of a global campaign to boost uptake.

Academics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Cambridge and other institutions will help to tackle so-called infodemics.