Sir Lenny Henry has warned black Britons they could be left behind if they refuse the coronavirus jab in an open letter signed by leading black figures in the UK.
The letter urges black adults in the UK to make informed decisions about the vaccine and to protect themselves and the people they care for by getting vaccinated.
The letter has been signed by the 12 Years a Slave actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, the author Malorie Blackman, the actor Thandie Newton, the Bridgerton star Adjoa Andoh, the performer George the Poet, the musician KSI and the radio personality Trevor Nelson.
“Because we love you – we want you to be safe and we don’t want you to be left out or left behind. While other communities are rushing to get the vaccine and millions have already been vaccinated, some Black people in our community are being more cautious,” the letter notes.
It comes after analysis by the Office for National Statistics found stark differences in vaccine uptake between different groups. Over-70s of black African heritage in England are 7.4 times more likely not to have received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine than people of white British ethnicity.
The analysis showed the lowest rate was among people identifying as black African (58.8%), followed by black Caribbean (68.7%) and those from Bangladeshi (72.7%) and Pakistani (74.0%) backgrounds.
Henry said: “I felt it was important to do my bit and so I wrote this letter to black Britain asking people not to get left behind, to not continue to be disproportionately impacted and to trust the facts from our doctors, professors and scientists, not just in the UK but across the world, including the Caribbean and Africa.
“I hear and understand the concerns which people of all backgrounds are wrestling with, but which are particularly concerning in black communities. I want people to be safe, I don’t want people to die or end up in hospital because of Covid-19. So I’m saying, when your turn comes, take the jab.”
The letter, supported by the NHS, has also been turned into a short film directed by the Bafta award-winner Amma Asante, which features Henry alongside Adrian Lester, David Harewood, and Naomi Ackie. The film will be aired on Sky, BT Sport, Viacom, Discovery, A&E and ROK between 8pm and 9.30pm on Tuesday night.
Asante said she was driven to create the film because of her concern about the impact that Covid-19 was having on the black community. “I wanted to make a film that acknowledges the concerns of black people while sharpening the lens on why the vaccine is so important, and why we deserve to have our lives and the lives of our loved ones protected,” she said.
She added: “The message of the film and the reason I wanted to do it is that our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, deserve to be protected. It was in that loving nature and approach that the film takes.
“Everyone involved in the film is black and British. I haven’t seen anything on screen like this before, it’s for us and by us speaking directly to the needs of the black community. We wanted to address this issue as an extended family.”
Prof Kevin Fenton, the London regional director for Public Health England, said: “We know our black communities have been among the hardest hit during this pandemic, but we also know there are some among us who are less likely to come forward for the life-saving vaccine.
“We can all play a role in encouraging our friends and family to take it up when offered, whether that’s answering questions or concerns they may have, pointing them towards information and advice from trusted sources, sharing our own experiences of getting the vaccine or declining to pass on myths and misinformation circulating on social media.”