Sir Lenny Henry’s open letter urges black Britons to take Covid vaccine

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KSI, Lenny Henry and Thandie Newton

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Sir Lenny Henry hopes his open letter urging black Britons to take the Covid-19 vaccine will help to stop “disproportionate” ethnic death rates.

The comic has enlisted other high-profile figures, such as actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, musician KSI and actress Thandie Newton, as signatories.

He said people should “trust the facts” and guard against misinformation.

Vaccination rates among black British ethnic groups are considerably lower than among white Britons.

According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, vaccination rates for people in England identifying as black African stand at 58.8%, the lowest among all ethnic minority groups, and 68.7% within the black Caribbean community.

By contrast, for people identifying as white British, there is an estimated take-up rate of 91.3%.

The disparity exists despite a widespread study suggesting black people are twice as likely as white people to catch the coronavirus.

Asked why there was caution in the black community about having the vaccine, Sir Lenny blamed an “element of mistrust” in the system.

He said people felt “certain institutions and authorities haven’t particularly done right by the black community in the past” so asked “why should they do something for us now? Why are they doing us all a big favour?”

Sir Lenny’s letter, addressed to “mums, dads, grandparents, uncles, aunties, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, daughters, sons and cousins”, recognises these historic “legitimate worries and concerns”.

But it adds: “We’re asking you to trust the facts about the vaccine from our own professors, doctors, scientists involved in the vaccine’s development, GPs, not just in the UK but across the world, including the Caribbean and Africa.”

The appeal, which is backed by the NHS, has also been turned into a short film directed by Amma Asante.

Lenny Henry

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The film will be aired on Sky, BT Sport, Viacom, Discovery, A&E and ROK and Channel 5 on Tuesday 30 March from 20:00 BST.

Other signatories include author Malorie Blackman, DJ Trevor Nelson and historian David Olusoga.

Misinformation fight

The Comic Relief co-founder also used the launch of the letter to address the impact of misinformation that is rife online and spreading through WhatsApp groups and social media.

“You can trust the science, you can trust the experts, and I would say mistrust stuff you read in terms of just people online venting.

“Talk to your GP, talk to a science expert, don’t talk to someone down the pub,” he added.

Asked if the UK government had done enough to build up the trust of the black community, Sir Lenny said: “They waited and that’s why we’re in this terrible situation, so it’s a bit ironic to accuse the black community of hesitating.

“There are mitigating circumstances to the trust and the lack of take-up and those things need to be mended before people can move forward, and we’re doing our bit to do that and perhaps the government needs to do the same too,” he said.

Risk factors identified for ethnic minorities.

“My thing is, we’re all in this together. Black, white, Asian, whatever, we’re all in it together. We all want our families and our loved ones to survive.

“We respect and care about and support our key workers and what we can do to help everyone is to take the jab so that this contagion doesn’t spread.”

Fake news about the vaccine, particularly in the South Asian community, has led to concerns about uptake.

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