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Trevor McDonald, Adil Ray and Art Malik join community members to urge ethnic minorities to follow COVID-19 safe advice and get the vaccine

Two people in a train station wearing masks

TV broadcasters Sir Trevor McDonald and Adil Ray have joined actor Art Malik and ethnic minority community voices in two short films, developed as part of a research study, encouraging people to follow COVID-19 safety precautions.

While restrictions are being eased and the vaccine is now available to all adults - with more than 45 million people receiving at least one dose of the vaccine - it is still widely recognised that ethnic minority communities are less likely to take up the vaccine and follow COVID-19 safety precautions. There are concerns that these groups already disproportionately affected in the UK will remain most at risk from the virus.

The three-and-a-half-minute films aim to reduce COVID-19 health inequalities by delivering targeted, culturally appropriate health interventions to Black and South Asian communities. They have been developed as part of the COBHAM study, led by researchers at Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust, to improve understanding among ethnic minority communities of the risk posed by COVID-19 and to promote actions to help keep these communities safe.

The interventions also include downloadable leaflets emphasising good practice such as testing and vaccination.

The study is backed by funding from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Materials were developed in collaboration with university partners, Black and South Asian community groups and are based on insight from research with Black and South Asian communities.

At the outset of the research, during 2020, the study team was referring to the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities as ‘BAME’. One of the early findings was that this was not one homogeneous group, and that different health messaging interventions were needed for different ethnic minority groups.

Other findings indicated that ethnic minority communities underestimated the risk posed to their own health by COVID-19, that there is a lot of mistrust of government officials combined with the importance of hearing messages from people within their own communities who they can better relate to. There was also a feeling that health messages are not for their communities, do not reflect their culture or use of language and are, instead, focused on the majority of the population which is white.

Study insight was then combined with information from Public Health England and community and engagement meetings about vaccine fear and anxiety fuelled by anti-vaccine propaganda. Materials will be shared throughout the country by local community and healthcare organisations. The films are also available on the NHS YouTube channel with a direct link:

Lead researcher, Professor Aftab Ala from Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust, who also holds posts at King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Surrey, said:

“More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, ethnic minority communities in the UK and elsewhere continue to be affected by a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 associated morbidity and mortality. We know restrictions will be lifted on 19 July, but rules must be followed until then and it is still advisable to take sensible precautions to protect ourselves and our communities beyond this date. To reduce health inequalities we must develop health information that resonates with these communities.

“Our films build on the portfolio of material developed for ethnic minority groups and include the unique element of being based on research with the communities we are trying to reach. They use a range of trusted, authentic community voices combined with high-profile ethnic minority faces. Our literature uses graphics and language appropriate for these communities and will be available in different languages including Arabic, Somali, Bengali, Gujurati, Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. Just like our research informed us we should, we have developed messages from the community to the community.

“It was heartening to see how enthusiastic members of the Black and South Asian communities were to take part in this project.”

Researchers will evaluate the impact of the materials over the next few months. Government departments will then be able to use this insight to inform future health messaging and policy changes for ethnic minority groups.