Misinformation surrounding the coronavirus is something that has plagued social media over the past year. Most recently, we've seen misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine spread rapidly, and it's disproportionally affecting minorities, with the UK's South Asian community being particularly at risk. A recent poll, commissioned by the Royal Society of Public Health, suggested that just over half of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) people would be happy to have the coronavirus vaccine. The poll found that 57 percent said they would take the vaccine — compared to 79 percent of white people. Similarly, Dr Samara Afzal, who has been vaccinating patients in the West Midlands, told BBC that "we've been calling all patients and booking them in for vaccines but the admin staff say when they call a lot of the South Asian patients they decline and refuse to have the vaccination."
The decrease in uptake within the South Asian community specifically comes as a result of of myths about the vaccine that have been primarily spread via WhatsApp. Myths include that the vaccine contains meat substances, that it can alter your DNA, or that ingredients have been derived from cows — an animal that is sacred to practising Hindus. Christina Marriott, chief executive of the Royal Society For Public Health (RSPH), told the BBC, "Anti-vaccination messages have been specifically targeted" at some ethnic and religious communities. "People send WhatsApps, videos, all kinds of messages — and if you don't know where that's coming from then it is very likely to be inaccurate," vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi added.
As concerns about the uptake in South Asian communities grow, the NHS and its healthcare providers are hoping to raise awareness to stop the spread of misinformation. Dr Harpreet Soodh, from NHS England, told BBC that health officials have been aiming to work with South Asian influencers and community leaders to help debunk myths about the vaccine. "We need to be clear and make people realise there is no meat in the vaccine, there is no pork in the vaccine, it has been accepted and endorsed by all the religious leaders and councils and faith communities," he told the broadcaster. Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, also added that "for someone like me, who stood in the Nightingale, and saw row after row of BAME patients being ventilated — and seeing how it disproportionately affected people from the BAME community — I'd be urging everybody to take the vaccine."
Below, we address all the rumours about the coronavirus vaccine affecting the South Asian community in the UK and the reasons why there's no truth behind them.