A leading surgeon who is known for his work in tackling knife crime is joining the fight to tackle vaccine hesitancy among black and other minority ethnic communities.
Martin Griffiths, a consultant trauma surgeon, is one of a team of clinicians who has stepped up to help the vaccination effort at Barts Health NHS Trust.
After contracting the virus and receiving the vaccination himself, Griffiths is using his experience to call on NHS staff and others from black, Asian and other minority communities to get vaccinated.
The NHS England’s national clinical director for violence reduction said: “Spread the word, not the virus.”
Recent data showed black, Asian and mixed ethnicity people are all less likely to have been vaccinated than white people among those aged 80 and above in England. The data showed white people are almost twice as likely to have been vaccinated as black people among over-80s in England.
Previous data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested that black people had a fourfold higher risk of dying from Covid than white people, and that there were significant differences in mortality between ethnic groups and between the sexes.
That is something Griffiths says he is “not prepared to tolerate” as the largest vaccination programme in NHS history continues to accelerate.
“I’ve had coronavirus, I’ve seen it up close. You don’t want to die. The people doing badly are the same people who are hesitant about taking up the vaccine and it’s tragic,” he said.
“Minority ethnic groups take up a disproportionate amount of beds due to Covid and they are also the most hesitant to get the one thing that could save them.
“We need to rally around these groups and give them the support they need so that they choose to have the jab, saving their own lives and those of their loved ones.”
NHS staff are delivering jabs from a network of more than 1,500 sites across the country including sports stadiums, cathedrals, churches, a temple, a mosque and a museum.
Griffiths has called on patients and NHS staff to spread the message that the vaccine is safe for all.
“I recently vaccinated a security guard who had been encouraged to come and talk to me about her concerns from colleagues,” he said.
“These are the vital conversations that can make a huge difference: the chat with fellow staff at lunch, the conversations with loved ones at home, this is where real changes to attitude can be made,” said the consultant.
“This isn’t me talking as a doctor, this is me talking as a human being. I recognise what coronavirus looks like up close.”
As well as those in security, Griffiths want more to be done to address the concerns of porters, transport workers, cleaners, and other frontline workers.
He said: “These are valued people who are an integral part of the healthcare system, people I have worked with for 30 years, and I don’t want to see them die because of misinformation.
“These are the patient-facing roles that are most at risk and they are also likely to be decision-makers on health within their families, with a butterfly effect of influence on their communities. It’s vital we listen and help.”
The vaccine minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “Dr Martin Griffiths has a hugely important message on the vaccine being safe for all, and it’s vital that it is heard loud and clear. It is a top priority for government that we support black and other minority ethnic groups to get the right information so they can protect themselves and their loved ones.”