Health and community leaders have been “too slow” to react to anti-vax messages circulating on social media, nursing leaders have said.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said that there has been a “real distrust” around the Covid-19 vaccination programme in some communities – particularly in those from African, Caribbean and Asian backgrounds.
And many older people are being influenced by younger generations who see anti-vax messages online, she said.
Asked whether myths about vaccines circulating on social media have increased in recent weeks, Dame Donna told BBC Breakfast: “I think they have been around for a long time and I believe that we as community leaders or clinical leaders have been slow to react to them.
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“I can send you at least 10 videos on my WhatsApp that have been circulated from since about last March with doctors, other professionals – you don’t know where they’ve come from – but all you can say about them is they’re clearly anti-vaxxers, and they claim to be protecting the BAME community from something that will harm them.”
She added: “Ever since we talked about a vaccine on social media we’ve had video after video of anti-vaxxers telling people scary things about the vaccine.
“So we’ve got a lot of work to do as community leaders to actually ensure that people get the truth about the vaccine.”
“Social media influences more people than we perhaps realise, and quite often when I talk to communities, it’s often the young people in the communities that are hesitant to take the vaccine and influence the older people.
“That’s why we say, if you’ve got concerns about it, speak to a trusted health professional.”
She added that nurses were among the most trusted of professions and they would not be leading the charge for the Covid-19 vaccination programme if they did not believe in it.
Last week leading surgeon Martin Griffiths, who works at Barts Health NHS Trust in London, urged people from black, Asian and other minority groups to get the jab, after suffering from Covid and receiving the vaccination himself.
Mr Griffiths, who is also NHS England’s national clinical director for violence reduction, said people from a BAME background are more susceptible to Covid-19 and yet they are also among those most hesitant about the jab.
“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,” he said.
“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.”