Sir Lenny Henry has written an open letter, signed by a number of household names, calling on black people in the UK to have the COVID-19 vaccine.
Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, actor Thandie Newton, radio host Trevor Nelson and author Malorie Blackman are among the signatories of the letter which asked people to “trust” the vaccine and not let “concerns be the thing that widens racial inequality in our society”.
Sir Lenny’s letter, supported by the NHS, says: “We don’t want you to be left out or left behind. While other communities are rushing to get the vaccine and millions have already been vaccinated, some black people in our community are being more cautious.”
It comes as 30 million people have received their first dose of the vaccine, more than half the UK’s adult population.
However figures from the Office for National Statistics taken from 13 January to 7 February shows that less than half (49%) of black or black British adults reported that they were likely to have the vaccine.
Sir Lenny also blamed an “element of mistrust” in the system for the caution in the black community.
He said: “I felt it was important to do my bit and so I wrote this letter to Black Britain asking people not to get left behind, to not continue to be disproportionately impacted and to trust the facts from our doctors, professors and scientists, not just in the UK but across the world, including the Caribbean and Africa.”
The open letter comes alongside a short film by BAFTA award-winning director Amma Asante, which features Sir Lenny alongside others including actor Adrian Lester and Rt Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Bishop of Dover.
London’s Regional Director for Public Health England, Professor Kevin Fenton, said “we can all play a role” in encouraging friends and family to take up the vaccine.
He said people should point others “towards information and advice from trusted sources” and not “pass on myths and misinformation circulating on social media”.
Professor Fenton said: “We know our black communities have been among the hardest hit during this pandemic, but we also know there are some among us who are less likely to come forward for the life-saving vaccine… Let’s all do our bit, keep our loved ones safe and end this pandemic sooner rather than later”.
Sir Lenny Henry’s letter in full
Dear mums, dads, grandparents, uncles, aunties, brothers, sisters, nephew, nieces, daughters, sons and cousins,
We love you!
We know we don’t say it often enough and sometimes we have our disagreements, like all families do, but wherever you are we love you from the bottom of our hearts and we know you love us.
And we want to see you again. Covid-19 has kept us apart for far too long. We want to hug you, we want to celebrate with you, we want to go out for dinner with you, we want to worship with you, we want to go and watch football and cricket with you, we want to beat you at video games – in the same room so we can see the look on your face when we do.
But in order to do all that – we all need to take the Covid-19 jab. It’s all of us in this together.
Things will slowly get back to normal. Well what people are calling the new normal. The reality is the new normal may mean needing a vaccine to do many of the things we now take for granted.
Because we love you – we want you to be safe and we don’t want you to be left out or left behind. While other communities are rushing to get the vaccine and millions have already been vaccinated, some Black people in our community are being more cautious.
You have legitimate worries and concerns, we hear that. We know change needs to happen and that it’s hard to trust some institutions and authorities.
But 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.
Many of whom are our relatives, many of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the people of this country from this pandemic.
And the thousands who volunteered to be part of the vaccine trials so that we know it’s safe and works for people of all ethnicities.
Don’t let their sacrifice be in vain. Don’t let your understandable fears be what holds you back. Don’t let your concerns be the thing that widens racial inequality in our society.
Don’t let Black people continue to be disproportionately impacted by this terrible disease.
Many in our community say they do not want to take the vaccine, much more than other groups. But the fact is we have been disproportionately affected by the virus, many of our loved ones have died. Don’t let coronavirus cost even more Black lives.
We love you. We don’t want you to get sick. We don’t want you to die.
We know you love us too so please hear us and when your turn comes, take the jab.
And once you do, tell cousin Mo to do the same (is he really my cousin?)
Let’s do this together.