UK's Matt Hancock praises British Muslims for role in vaccine drive

Health Secretary spoke at G7 summit on vaccine confidence

Abida Bi receives a  coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine from nurse Zenub Mahood, at Bradford Central Mosque, amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Bradford, Britain, February 25, 2021. REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff
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UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has praised the role of Britain's Muslims in the country’s Covid-19 vaccination drive.

Mr Hancock was speaking at a summit on vaccine confidence that Britain hosted on Wednesday as part of its presidency of the G7.

Shehla Imtiaz-Umer, a doctor who took part in the closed-door meeting, said Mr Hancock paid tribute to the contribution of British Muslims.

He acknowledged their role in “working as trusted voices within our communities and particularly in Ramadan to ensure vaccine uptake”.

The British Islamic Medical Association (Bima), which was also invited to the summit, said that faith leadership was being “recognised at the highest levels”.

A YouGov poll last month put the UK public at the top of a global table of willingness to become inoculated against Covid-19, with 90 per cent of those questioned saying they would take a vaccine.

But despite the UK's overall success, the vaccination rate has been lower among ethnic minority groups.

Some experts suggest that racism and the legacy of past mistreatment has led to a lack of trust among minority groups.

Islamic groups such as Bima have sought to counter this by debunking myths about vaccines.

Some vaccine doses have been administered at mosques, including London Central Mosque.

At Wednesday’s summit, the UK announced the launch of a global vaccine confidence campaign led by a working group under the auspices of the G7.

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

“Vaccine confidence is an international challenge and one that needs international action,” Mr Hancock said.

G7 health ministers were holding a separate summit on Thursday where they were set to discuss how to guard against future viruses that jump from animals to humans.

Experts say that efforts to protect wildlife and biodiversity could help to reduce the risk of a future pandemic.

OXFORD, ENGLAND - JUNE 02: Health Secretary Matt Hancock delivers a speech on the COVID-19 vaccine programme at the Jenner institute in Oxford on June 2, 2021 in Oxford, England. (Photo by  Jacob King-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Calls to foster public trust in vaccines 

US virus expert Anthony Fauci and WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus were among the speakers at the vaccine summit.

Dr Tedros mentioned faith leaders as one of the groups that were essential to securing confidence in vaccines.

“One of the key drivers of vaccination is public trust. Trust must be earned,” he said.

“Vaccine confidence is strongly shaped by the voices of politicians, journalists, influencers, faith leaders, family and friends, and often channelled through social media.”

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former prime minister of Denmark, said concerns over vaccine efficacy in one country could affect confidence in others.

Confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine dropped in France and Germany after numerous EU countries halted their use of the shot over blood clot fears.

“A debate in one country impacts trust and hesitancy in others. The world is a small place,” Ms Thorning-Schmidt told the meeting.

Ida Jooste, an adviser at the Internews project, which helps media organisations tackle misinformation, said the summit was a success.

“I was hoping to hear diverse voices and contributors towards the global collaboration that are necessary to build vaccine confidence, and indeed they were there,” she said.

Panellists discussed how raising vaccine confidence required both global efforts and community-based efforts.

“It’s a good indicator when people who busy themselves with this field all feel there’s a unified way to go, but it is also a great warning to us not to be duplicating too many efforts,” Ms Jooste said.

It would be better to have "fewer, simple and easy-to-follow strategies for building vaccine confidence", she said.