Doctors and faith leaders are uniting in a bid to tackle the low uptake of Covid-19 vaccines by ethnic minorities after more than half have refused it in some areas.
Medics and imams are hoping to dispel myths circulating in some communities by setting up pop-up vaccine centres in mosques.
One opened in the northern town of Keighley on Thursday where only 46 per cent of the 1,800 over 80s eligible in the Pakistani community in the Bradford region to have the vaccine have taken up the offer.
The situation is mirrored across the UK, which saw an inner city London vaccine centre in Hackney forced to repeatedly close early after people failed to attend.
In Europe, governments are also mounting campaigns to dispel fake news surrounding the vaccines, which has seen one in five medical staff in Italy refuse the inoculation, and in Spain those refusing will be named on a public list.
Professor John Wright, a doctor and epidemiologist, who is head of the Bradford Institute for Health Research, is hoping to persuade those refusing the vaccine to have it.
He said doctors have begun calling people at home to convince them of the benefits of the vaccine.
“To combat this misinfo-demic, we are working with people from within the ethnic communities and faith leaders have endorsed the Covid vaccine by having the injection themselves,” he said.
“I hope that we will yet persuade them to have the jab, because anyone who doesn't remains at risk as long as the virus is circulating, which is likely to be for some months yet,” he said.
“It is sad that the people refusing the vaccine today will be some of the patients with severe Covid in hospital tomorrow. The over-80s - the highest-risk group in society - will be in particular danger if they live in homes with younger people, who go back to work or resume social contacts when lockdown is lifted.
“Some are worried about safety, aware that this vaccine had been developed at speed - in 10 months rather than 10 years, which would be a more typical timeframe.
“But now that over 12 million doses have been given in the UK alone, the evidence is overwhelming: the vaccine is safe. We need to find a way of getting this information across.”
Keighley, near Bradford, the county’s first pop-up vaccination centre opened in a mosque on Thursday.
“Hopefully it will be the first of many,” Prof Wright added.
Mohammed Nazam, from the Central Mosque in Keighey, said it was important that everybody was aware of the truth about the vaccine.“We have lost a great many members of our community to Covid-19, including some of our community leaders,” he told the Keighley News.
“We want everyone to know the facts about the vaccine and to understand the reasons to have it.
“We’re really keen to see a successful vaccination programme and we readily offered our community hall as a suitable site for vaccinations. We want to help educate our community about the vaccine and encourage everyone to have the jab when invited.”
In other initiatives imams have launched videos of themselves being injected and young ethnic ambassadors have been appointed to dispel false claims.
Mufti Zubair Butt, from Bradford Council of Mosques, has been part of one of the faith leaders campaigns.
"By doing the video showing myself being vaccinated I have tried to show that there is nothing in the vaccine that contravenes your faith and the second thing that it is very safe on balance,” he said.
On Wednesday, England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said he was concerned the “uptake in minority ethnic groups is not going to be as rapid or as high" compared to the white population.
Qari Asim, Imam of Makkah Mosque in Leeds, has been working with the National Health Service to encourage more ethnic communities to have the vaccine.
“It is really important that we all contribute to the effort to fight this cruel pandemic that has impacted every single one of us,” he said.
“By having the vaccine when you are invited you will be playing your part in protecting lives.
“Like all faith leaders, I want to stress that taking the vaccine is a vital part of the solution to break the cycles of lockdown and be with our loved ones again. There is no religious reason for you not to take the vaccine.
“It is our ethical duty to protect ourselves and others from potential harm. By taking the vaccine, you will be protecting yourselves and fellow community members from being infected by deadly coronavirus.”
In August, Public Health England research found the risk of dying among those diagnosed with Covid-19 was higher in several ethnic groups than among white British people.
In Britain, as witnessed in Italy, there have been issue among medical staff refusing the vaccine.
Recently London hospitals, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust, revealed that while 80 per cent of its staff had been vaccinated, the rate was around a quarter among black-African and black-Caribbean staff, and lower still for Filipino staff.
“Black-African and black-Caribbean staff are showing more vaccine hesitancy. The numbers are quite dramatically different,” the board was told by its director of workforce Daniel Waldron.
Earlier this week vaccines minister Nadhim Zahaw warned Covid-19 could spread “like wildfire” among communities where large numbers of people refuse to be vaccinated.
The Royal College of General Practitioners has also called for a high-profile national campaign to encourage ethnic communities to have the vaccine.