Leading surgeon tackles vaccine hesitancy among minority groups

Leading surgeon Martin Griffiths, who is known for his work in tackling knife violence, has turned his attention to battling ‘vaccine hesitancy’ among black and other minority ethnic groups.

The NHS knife violence veteran, who visits schools to offer support and talk about the physical and emotional damage caused by serious violence, is taking part in the vaccination programme, the biggest in the health service’s history.

Griffiths, who works at Barts Health NHS Trust in London, is urging fellow staff and others from black, Asian and other minority groups to get the jab – after suffering Covid and receiving the vaccination himself.

NHS England’s National Clinical Director for violence reduction said: “Spread the word, not the virus.”

Those from a BAME background are more susceptible to COVID-19 and yet they are also among those most hesitant about the jab, according to Griffiths, who has seen first-hand the devastating effects of coronavirus.

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.”

As one of a team of clinicians who has stepped up to help the vaccination effort at Barts Health NHS Trust, Griffiths has called on patients and colleagues alike to spread the message that this vaccine is safe for all and the only safe way for communities to open up again.

“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,” says 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.”

Joining those in security are the likes of porters, transport workers and cleaners, who are all in patient-facing roles but where Griffiths wants more to be done to address concerns.

“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.”

NHS staff are delivering jabs from a network of more than 1,500 sites across the country including sports stadiums, racecourses, show grounds, cathedrals, churches, a temple, a mosque and a museum.

Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment, 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.

“As part of this we are working with faith and community leaders to dispel myths, give advice about the benefits of vaccinations and provide clear details for how their communities can get a jab. Martin’s message is a clear-eyed one: this virus is deadly and it is paramount that every eligible person benefits from a vaccine.”

The NHS made history when Maggie Keenan received the Pfizer vaccine at Coventry Hospital on the 8 December 2020.

The NHS was also the first health system to deliver the new Oxford AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine when Brian Pinker, 82, was jabbed on 4 January 2021.

Research carried out in the NHS also identified the world’s first treatment for COVID, the steroid Dexamethasone.