Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has said his “big fear” is that Covid-19 will infect unvaccinated groups and “once it gets into particular communities it will go through them like wildfire”.
Mr Zahawi was speaking at a London Assembly session on Thursday, during which it emerged the capital had a share of 11.7% of the country’s vaccines delivered as of Tuesday and is on course to hit 1.5 million vaccinations by February 14 by delivering about 40,000 per day.
More than 1.1 million Londoners had “received a vaccine by last night”, said NHS London chief nurse Martin Machray.
Mr Zahawi was asked about vaccine misinformation contributing toward a reluctance among certain ethnic minority communities to be inoculated.
He said: “Vaccine acceptance in the UK is the highest in the world and I’m very proud of that. The ONS (Office for National Statistics) survey suggests 85% of adults will take a vaccine.
“That’s great on its own but the 15% skew heavily toward BAME communities, and especially the black and afro-Caribbean community, which I am concerned about.”
Mr Zahawi went on: “It was great to see the Prime Minister go to Batley Islamic centre where they’re now reaching, I think, 97% of over-80s in Yorkshire which is phenomenal.
“We want to see the same happen in London and everywhere else in the country.
“When the virus has no-one to spread into because most of the adult population is vaccinated, it will try and find those groups that are unprotected and that’s my big fear, that once it gets into particular communities it will go through them like wildfire.
“That’s what I want to prevent, which is why we’re working so hard on this.”
He said he would update Parliament in the “coming days and weeks on how we’re delivering this with local government”.
Authorities are “working to identify people” through sharing ethnicity data in NHS figures and “sharing information with local government”, he said, adding: “We’ll be sharing it at ward level so we can identify those groups.”
More than twice the proportion of the white British population of England are likely to have received their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine compared with the black population, figures suggest.
A document released by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) last month said among the barriers to vaccine uptake is the perception of risk, low confidence in the vaccine, and lack of endorsement from trusted providers and community leaders.
Mr Zahawi added that the “best way of doing it is through medical practitioners, the GP, the community nurse, the community pharmacy” and empowering trusted community messengers like faith leaders.
He said the Government had a “Covid disinformation unit” working with technology firms, adding: “As soon as we identify any fake news … then we can immediately reach out to Twitter or Facebook or anyone else, and they should take it down immediately.”
He added: “I see even in my community where some of this disinformation is not necessarily going on social media but is texted or sent personally to people, so we’re on top of that as well and we’ll work with anyone including the mayor and the Met to make sure we prosecute any law-breaking.”