Lenny Henry urges Britain's black community to get Covid vaccine

Veteran comedian issues plea after data shows low vaccination rates among ethnic minorities

Lenny Henry on Tuesday urged black people in the UK to have a Covid-19 vaccine after figures showed they were slower than many others to have the shot.

Office for National Statistics data released on Monday also showed vaccination rates were lower in ethnic minority groups and that between December 8, 2020 and March 11, 2021, fewer Muslims in England were immunised than followers of any other religion.

The veteran comedian wrote an open letter encouraging black people to book a shot.

He and other high-profile names including actors Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Harewood and Adjoa Andoh also appeared in a short film which will be broadcast on television.

“I hear and understand the concerns which people of all backgrounds are wrestling with but which are particularly concerning in black communities,” Henry said.

“I want people to be safe. I don’t want people to die or end up in hospital because of Covid-19. So I’m saying, when your turn comes, take the jab.”

ONS figures showed that 85 per cent of white Britons reported they were likely to have the shot compared with fewer than half (49 per cent) of black or black British adults, even though death rates are higher among this group.

“You have legitimate worries and concerns, we hear that. We know change needs to happen and that it’s hard to trust some institutions and authorities,” Henry said.

“Don’t let your understandable fears be what holds you back. Don’t let your concerns be the thing that widens racial inequality in our society. Don’t let black people continue to be disproportionately impacted by this terrible disease.”

More than 30 million people in Britain have received their first Covid-19 inoculation, but with England on Monday enjoying an easing of lockdown restrictions and with scientists on Tuesday warning again of the potential for vaccine-evading mutations, refuseniks pose a real headache for authorities.

The ONS vaccination rates data is distilled into four charts below.

Vaccination rate by religious affiliation

Only 72.3 per cent of those identifying as Muslim were vaccinated by March 11, the lowest rate of any religious group. Buddhists also lagged behind, with only 78.1 per cent immunised.

The highest rate of vaccination (91.1 per cent) was seen in those identifying as Christian.


Vaccination rates in people who were Jewish (88.8 per cent) or Sikh (87 per cent) were slightly lower. The ONS ascribed the small differential to geographic, socio-economic and health factors.

But it said these factors could not explain fully the significantly lower rates among Muslims and Buddhists.

Vaccination rate by ethnic group

The data showed that of adults aged over 70 in England, people of colour were less likely to be immunised than white people.

Of these groups, those who were black African (58.8 per cent) received the fewest vaccinations, followed by people of black Caribbean heritage (68.7 per cent).

Bangladeshi (72.7 per cent) and Pakistani (74 per cent) groups had low vaccination rates, but among people of Indian descent, (86.2 per cent) the rate was far higher.


The office said only 30 per cent of disparities by ethnicity could be attributed to geographic, socio-economic or health factors.

Even after it adjusted for these variations, a white British person was still five and a half times more likely to have been vaccinated than a black African or black British person of African descent.

This chart shows the office vaccination calculations of odds in full, when adjusted for geographic, socio-economic and health factors and when not.


Vaccination rate by area deprivation

While the data showed that deprivation factors did not fully explain ethnic and religious demographic disparities, the researchers said they should not be discounted.

This chart shows the clear relationship between deprivation and vaccination rates.


The vaccination rate in the most deprived areas of England was 87 per cent, compared with 92.1 per cent in the least deprived.

Vaccination rates in over-70s broken down by age, disability and sex

Of the over-70s, the vaccination rate was 90.2 per cent. The highest rate was found among 80 to 84 year olds (92.6 per cent).

The rate dropped markedly in people over the age of 95 and with only 83 per cent immunised aged between 95 and 99.

Fewer people in care homes (86.4 per cent) were vaccinated than those who live elsewhere (90.3 per cent).

More non-disabled people were vaccinated (91 per cent) than those who reported a disability in the 2011 census (86.6 per cent).

Slightly more women (90.4 per cent) than men (90 per cent) were inoculated.