OFFICIALS have been forced to reassure care home staff over taking the vaccine after they were “particularly targeted” by anti-vaxxers – amid warnings that some eastern Europeans in Scotland are being informed by sceptical news from their homeland.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman was asked at Holyrood’s Covid-19 Committee about investigations in the early stages of the vaccine rollout that around one third of social care workers had voiced concerns about receiving the vaccine.
Mr Freeman told MSPs that the care home staff “were being particularly targeted” by people who “question whether the Covid-19 virus is one we should be paying as much attention to” and individuals who “do not believe in vaccination”.
She added: “There was a particular approach taken to that group of people which was very distressing for them.
“It also questioned whether they were doing the right thing for their residents and those they care for.”
Ms Freeman said there were other reasons why people have been unsure about receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, which has been proven to minimise the risk of serious illness and death from the virus – including for faith reasons and those having a history of severe allergic reaction.
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She added: “I don’t think we’re finished with this yet.
“We need to keep looking at this. As the data comes in, we are increasingly able to see where there may be clusters of people who aren’t taking it up.
“We’re looking ahead to the under 50s group and trying to get a feel for how they are feeling about taking the vaccine, what the likely uptake might be.
“We’re aiming at 80 per cent – that would be really good, higher would be better. We need to adapt and modify our approaches as we work through all those groups.”
Scotland’s national clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch stressed that more than 90 per cent of all the groups targeted so far have taken up the vaccine, but added that “in general terms, the poorer you are, the more hesitant you are”.
He added: “There’s an ethnicity challenge and that is mixed in with a faith challenge in some ways. That’s partly about constituent of the vaccine, partly about state control and partly about where the vaccines come from.
“There’s also some surprising ethnicity challenges. Quite a lot of the anti-vax community is eastern European. The eastern European news is much more anti-vax than the UK news and quite a lot of eastern Europeans who live in the UK get their news from their original country.”
Pointing to the issue with care home staff, Professor Leitch said there was a “challenge with the information they’ve been given by those who I would suggest are undermining, at some level, the vaccine programmes and causing harm”.
Earlier, MSPs heard about concerns some asylum seekers may be wary of engaging with the coronavirus vaccination programme due to fears it is connected to the Home Office, MSPs were told.
The umbrella group BEMIS Scotland, which represents voluntary groups working with ethnic minorities, has carried out a survey of its members to help identify causes of vaccine hesitancy.
Danny Boyle, policy officer for BEMIS Scotland, said there are key groups around asylum seekers and refugees, newer arrivals such as Polish and eastern European communities, multi-generational Scottish ethnic minority communities such as those of Pakistani, Indian, Irish, Jewish and Sikh backgrounds, and specific concerns relating to African and black communities.
He said many reasons for vaccine hesitancy among minorities are the same as among the population overall, but the survey highlighted further issues.
Mr Boyle said: “For asylum seekers, if it looks like the Home Office – if it is seen to come from an official source – there is routinely a concern for these communities in engaging via these normal practises which all of us would potentially take for granted.
“That’s due to the Home Office undermining these people’s experiences and having a negative relationship with them.
“For newer migrant communities, eastern Europeans, we’ve established that there’s a bit of a hangover from the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, with a strong anti-vaxx sentiment within some eastern European demographics, particularly younger populations.”
For the multi-generational communities, he said finding appropriate language capacity to communicate effectively had been a challenge.
One of the most concerning results, he said, related to black and African communities.
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Mr Boyle said: “There is a concern and a misrepresentation within some groups that the vaccine is still at a process of using some ethnic minority communities – particularly African and black people who have suffered a history of racialisation – that they are being used as guinea pigs.”
He said the Scottish Government is working with community groups to help spread reliable information about the vaccine, but Scotland is not currently collecting ethnicity data at the point of vaccination.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was asked about the survey’s findings at the coronavirus briefing on Thursday.
She said: “It wouldn’t surprise me if there were some groups that are more reluctant to come forward, not because of vaccine scepticism but a whole range of different factors at play, and we need to work to overcome that.
“But overall the levels of uptake that we are seeing suggest much higher levels than we see in other vaccination programmes.
“So I think there is a lot to be positive about here but no room for complacency, we want everybody who’s eligible for this vaccine to get it.”