Southwark Council is putting a task force together with the hopes of tackling vaccine hesitancy among Black and ethnic minority communities. 

National surveys suggest that people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds are far more likely to refuse having the Covid-19 vaccine than white people.  

Until now, the Government has not been collecting ethnicity data when people receive the vaccine.

However, it emerged this week that the NHS is set to start start doing it in the next few days following growing pressure.  

The issue was raised during an all-day overview and scrutiny committee meeting on Monday (January 25), which was focused on Southwark’s upcoming budget.  

The council is proposing £14.7 million in budget cuts next year, £2.7 of which are expected to affect services. 

It is also planning to take £5 million from its around £21 million reserves to balance the budget.  

Part of the cuts include job losses in senior management and elsewhere, as well as closing an adult day centre for good.  

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Cabinet members were quizzed throughout the day by committee members. 

Committee member Cllr Jason Ochere asked what the council is doing to combat the issue of vaccine hesitancy among Black and ethnic minority groups and how much money is going into getting the message across to communities.  

The cabinet member for public health and community safety, Cllr Evelyn Akoto, said: “We’re setting up a taskforce with a neighbouring borough on how we communicate this important vaccine to our communities.  

“A lot of it is about making sure they have the right information.  

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there and anti-vaxxers are targeting the groups that have concerns.” 

Southwark launched a network of ‘health ambassadors’ in the wake of the pandemic – the volunteers get the latest advice and information out to the community on how to stay safe.  

Cllr Akoto told the committee that they have also been useful for feeding back the reasons for hesitancy. 

On funding she said: “There is no extra funding from Government for communication so we are working out how we can do that with the limited resources we have.  

“We are meeting with officers tomorrow to set up an officer group to see how we can best channel this information.” 

Cllr Victoria Olisa asked if there was a possibility of funding the health ambassadors for longer.  

“Covid’s not going to be here forever, but there’s always an issue with BME communities in terms of health inequalities.  

“Either the communication is not right, or we’re not engaging them in a particular way. They are not difficult to engage,” she said.  

Cllr Akoto said the council will definitely “discuss and keep in mind” keeping the health ambassadors on for longer.  

“Black and ethnic minority groups definitely need long-term investment,” she said.