Over the last nine months, our world have been turned upside down as the coronavirus pandemic takes not only lives from us, but livelihoods too.
Just as we began to realise the economic ramifications of this virus – that will be with us for a while – we discovered too that there was no quick fix, and our focus moved onto ensuring the development of safe, effective vaccines.
The results is that, this week, the UK became the first country in the world to approve a vaccine. The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, which offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 illness, was approved by the British regulator, the MHRA, who say the vaccine is safe for rollout from next week.
In many ways, this was the moment we have all been waiting for, but more work is still needed to support the science. We need more research so we can provide vaccines not just for the UK, but globally too.
To be as effective as possible, vaccine trials need thousands of volunteers. And although sign-ups have been positive, there has been poor take-up in BAME communities. Shadim Hussain, who sits on the trial’s management group, wrote for Wired that: “Ethnic minorities were 10 times less likely than the general population to participate in the vaccine trial” and that “they comprise 36 percent of the population, but only 3 percent of trial participants.”
While I am keen to help the general effort to find a safe and effective vaccine, I felt it was important to take part in the trial because I am a member of the BAME community too.
As Hussain highlights, Bradford’s population is particularly diverse – over a third of Bradford’s population is not white British, and the district has the largest proportion of people of Pakistani ethnic origin in England. All this makes the Bradford Novovax trial a great opportunity to boost BAME participation in a vaccine trial.
I decided I wanted to contribute to this process, so last weekend I joined a vaccine trial. Why? While I am keen to help the general effort to find a safe and effective vaccine, I felt it was important to take part in the trial because I am a member of the BAME community too.
The trial I am taking part in is for the Bradford Novovax vaccine. As part of Bradford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (BTHFT), Bradford Royal Infirmary is delivering the world’s first Phase 3 study to test the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by US biotechnology company Novavax. Those volunteering as part of the trial are given two doses of the vaccine – one on their first day and a second on day 21. We are then monitored for 12 months.
This is all the more important since it has become clear over the last nine months that ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Since the publication of Public Health England’s Covid-19 disparities review in June, there has been a lot of discussion about systemic and cultural factors which contribute to disparities. The discussion of the causes of these disparities is certainly important, but so are the statistics themselves: “People of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian and Mixed ethnicities have a statistically significant raised risk of death involving Covid-19 compared those of white ethnicity”. To make this stark statement even clearer: People like me from Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities are between 30 and 80% more likely to die from coronavirus than white people. Black people are almost 90% more likely to die from coronavirus than white people.
By taking part, I hope I am not only contributing to the research but also encouraging others to contribute too.
These statistics should be taken into account alongside the fact that minority groups tend to have worse health overall than the general population. These health inequalities are driven by societal inequalities such as socioeconomic factors, educational attainment and discrimination.This means that it is not only hugely important that Black and minority communities are able to access the vaccine when it becomes available.
Despite the data there is a general reluctance among some people across all communities to be involved in vaccine trials, mostly due to the speed at which the vaccines have been developed and the limited testing they have had so far.
However, the reluctance to be involved with the trials from members of the BAME community is also a product of the government’s poor messaging. In Parliament I have raised the issue of ensuring critical coronavirus messaging reaches BAME viewers, yet the responses I receive are at best limited, and at worst dismissive. As such, it’s no surprise minority communities may not feel they have adequate information on vaccine trials or their benefits.
It seems to me, therefore, that the best way to encourage more to take part is to lead by example. By taking part, I hope I am not only contributing to the research but also encouraging others to contribute too. Of course more work needs to be done to ensure that messaging on the trials reaches the groups who need it most, but in the meantime I hope my participation is a message in itself – to BAME communities in Bradford and beyond.
Naz Shah is the Labour MP for Bradford West. Follow her on Twitter at @NazShahBfd
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