Initiative to combat Covid vaccine hesitancy launched within Bristol’s Somali community March 4th 2021

An initiative to address fears about the new Covid vaccine has been launched to try to encourage members of Bristol’s Somali community to get vaccinated. Workers at the Bristol Somali Resource Centre (BSRC) started the information campaign in January to persuade members within the community who might be unsure about coming forward for the vaccine.

Zahra Kosar is a social worker and a fulltime member of the team at BSRC. Together with two Somali nurses, they have been keen to get a positive message across about the vaccine via social media, group Zoom meetings, by visiting those who are vulnerable and by telling people in person who come to seek help at the centre. 

Speaking shortly after having had the vaccination herself, she spelled out what they are hoping to achieve:

‘We are encouraging everyone to take part in the vaccination programme. We think this is really important. We have held Zoom events where nurses from the Somali community have been educating members of the community. At each event there were at least 30 people, mostly women who we then hope would share the information with their families.’

‘People were asking serious questions to the nurses because often these people don’t have access to health care staff. Some questions were emotional because some of these people have believed in what they have seen on social media. This gave them the opportunity to ask questions in a more accessible way in their own language.’

‘Some of people’s questions showed that they were anxious. The questions they were raising were things like if the vaccines are Halal or not or if it has side effects. I think those are valid questions and the community shouldn’t be labelled as anti-vaccine as a result.’

There have been well publicised accounts of conspiracy theories surrounding the new Covid vaccines which have often targeted minorities. Some have claimed that the Covid vaccines contain pork gelatine. In the past the NHS has been criticised for releasing a flu vaccine for children which contained pork gelatine but none of the Pfizer, AstoZenaca or Moderna vaccines being rolled out in the UK contain it.

‘Our nurses also went on BBC Points West two weeks ago to challenge the vaccine misinformation that is being spread on social media’, Zahra adds.

‘Now these issues have been clarified by doctors and imams then people are now putting more trust in the programme.’

‘Some of them who were reluctant to take it we now know have taken it. I have spoken to many people in the community who have taken their vaccine or who are waiting for their time to come.’

At the time of writing the vaccinations are being rolled out in Bristol to priority groups 5 and 6. That is the over 65s and ‘adults aged 16 to 65 in an at risk group’.

‘I had mine (the Pfizer vaccine) at the Clifton College Preparatory School vaccination centre last Wednesday (February 24th)’, Zahra continues.  ‘I had my photo taken and have shared this via social media to get a positive message across about the vaccination programme.’

Zahra also speaks about the importance of sharing information about the forthcoming Census on March 21st. ‘BSRC will be one of the support centres and we are encouraging the community to take part. We tell people to keep an eye on their post and say that they can come to us if they need help filling out forms or completing applications online.’

‘In the coming few weeks we will start to spread the word about this. I think there was a poor attendance last time and it’s really important because taking part in the Census affects how local resources are distributed and if people are complaining about inequality and poor services but they haven’t taken part in the Census then I see this as a problem.’