Since the initial outbreak of coronavirus, the impact has been disproportionate for Black and ethnic minority Britons. While the vaccine rollout has so far offered a light at the end of the tunnel, research has revealed that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people have said they were much less likely than white people to take the vaccine, with take-up especially low for low-income groups. This has implications beyond healthcare, as lower uptake of the vaccine among BAME communities opens up the potential for a racist backlash, as those seeking to divide may exploit this to suggest that BAME Britons are putting others at risk by not getting vaccinated.

Between 10-14th January 2021, HOPE not hate Charitable Trust commissioned FocalData to carry out a poll of 1,014 BAME Britons to better understand vaccine hesitancy among BAME Britons, and what can be done to address it.

Our polling reaffirms findings of the Royal Society for Public Health that there is a far greater degree of vaccine hesitancy among BAME Britons. But while much commentary around this has centred on the circulation of WhatsApp rumours and conspiracy videos about the vaccine, we find that the roots of this vaccine hesitancy are longer and more complex.

When our poll of BAME Britons asked why those who say they probably or definitely won’t have the vaccine feel that way, safety looms as the largest concern as many believe the vaccine has been rushed through, but this is closely followed by a sense of mistrust in those telling people to have the vaccine, and further down the list, a sense that there is malicious intent behind the vaccine, or even that the vaccine will be injecting poison into our bodies. Significantly, those who say that they don’t trust the vaccine’s safety, or that they definitely won’t have the vaccine, are far more likely to report having had a bad experience for themselves or an immediate family member in the past 5 years.

For Black respondents in particular, a bad experience they or a family member has had in the health system is one of the most popular justifications for not wanting the covid vaccine. Moreover, the circulation of misinformation is taking place in a broader context of uneasy relationships with the Government, officials and the healthcare system more broadly. Misinformation and relationships of trust are intrinsically linked; belief in conspiracy theories and misinformation is often a symptom as much as a cause of cynical outlook on politics and society at large.

Despite all of this, our findings should come as some reassurance, in that those who say they will definitely not have the vaccine remain a minority, and rather than an overt antivaccination challenge for black and minority communities, it is one of vaccine hesitancy. While challenging misinformation is important, the legacy of medical racism also needs to be addressed. Building trust with marginalised communities, challenging structural racism within the healthcare system, and putting the needs of those most impacted by coronavirus first, must be central as part of the government’s ongoing response to the crisis, and the vaccination programme.