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Newham GP to call 5,000 patients ‘hesitant’ about vaccine

Dr Farzana Hussain, photographed for the NHS’ 72nd birthday, is fighting misinformation about the vaccine (Credit: Rankin)

A GP in Newham is planning to call every one of her 5,000 patients yet to take a coronavirus vaccine.

Dr Farzana Hussain is trying to combat the relatively poor uptake across the borough.

She is aiming to “drive out hesitancy about the vaccine, and boost uptake particularly among people from black, Asian and ethnic minority groups” who make up 73% of Newham’s population.

“I’m phoning everyone at my practice who is eligible but yet to get the vaccine to talk to them about why.

“In the vast majority of cases there is a hesitancy rather than outright rejection of the vaccine.”

She said the issue was “so personal” to her as a British Bangladeshi woman.

“People from BAME communities are dying because of misinformation; British Bangladeshi’s are five times more likely to die due to covid.”

The Project Surgery, where she works, is one of 1,500 vaccination sites around the country. But she said the uptake has been lower there than the national average of 90%.

Dr Hussain, who was featured in a campaign last June to celebrate NHS workers by having her portrait taken by photographer Rankin, said she has already succeeded in tackling unsubstantiated worries during her first 50 calls.

“One older lady I spoke to was worried about long-term side effects, but after talking it through with her, and with the support of her son, and desire to see her six-year-old grandchild grow up, she changed her mind.”

The mosque-going mum-of-two said cultural anxieties over starting a family and a desire to adhere to religious practices helps explain the hesitancy.

“A range of concerns came up, including misinformation around infertility and the use of animal products, which are both completely untrue.

“This disinformation comes from a real sense of shame that not being able to bear children brings and is a particular issue among women from African and Asian backgrounds.

“They would refuse the vaccine if there was a 1% chance of that happening, but I want to reassure people that there is no evidence of this at all.

“There was no doubt in my mind to get the vaccine in order to protect my children and make sure I am still here to look after them. I want others to make that same choice.

“Getting an injection does not break the [Ramadan] fast – it’s not nutrition. There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have it.

“The Koran says saving your life is the most important thing, to save one life is to save the whole of humanity. It’s a responsibility of a practising Muslim to take their vaccine.”

Last week, Newham Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz announced a range of initiatives to increase uptake of the vaccine.

“I want all our residents protected and would urge you to not to be worried about getting vaccinated,” she said as she announced fortnightly information sessions fronted by medical experts and the roll-out of a peer support network.

Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz is worried about the borough’s low uptake (Credit: Newham Council)

A study of vaccine uptake in Leicester this week showed 70.9% of white hospital workers accepted the jab, compared to 58.5% of South Asian staff and 36.8% of black employees.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said his “big worry” was “if 85% of the adult population get vaccinated – if the 15% skews heavily to the BAME community, the virus will very quickly infect that community and really hurt them.”

In Newham this week 6, 873 vaccines were given out, meaning 36, 758 people, or 9.8% of the borough’s population have been vaccinated.

In the same period 436 positive tests were recorded, down from 802 the week before.

If you have received a letter telling you to get vaccinated you can log on to the national booking service at www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccination and choose a centre.

For more information on the council’s schemes please email Linda.Amankwah@newham.gov.uk. 

If you are unable to book online you can call 119 free of charge, anytime between 7am and 11pm seven days a week.

For more on this story, and the latest on our other local and national news, listen to Time 107.5FM

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