Charles concerned at low minority vaccine take-up Prince Charles (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images).
Radhakrishna N S
By Amit Roy
PRINCE CHARLES has expressed concern that some members of the ethnic minorities are not taking the vaccine.
He told a webinar organised by the British Asian Trust (BAT), of which he is the founder patron: “In view of my concern about the health and welfare of our ethnic minority communities, I am so glad to be able to introduce this crucially important discussion on vaccination.”
Last Thursday’s (18) webinar also heard from a number of key players in the field, among them Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, who revealed his firm was exporting 30-40 per cent of its monthly output to poorer countries.
The trust is a charity which helps Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and others in south Asia.
The speakers were introduced by Lord Jitesh Gadhia, a trustee of the charity, who announced a fundraising initiative: “To date, our projects spanning education, health, child protection, conservation, and livelihoods have helped more than five million people across the region. Last year, through our Covid-19 appeal for south Asia, we raised almost £1m, and we were able to support more than 160,000 people with emergency relief and essential frontline services.
Lord Gadhia said: “We have secured a partnership with the UK government in which the government will match fund for every pound you raise in March, April and May this year. With every donation doubled, it will enable us to continue reaching some of the poorest and most marginalised people across south Asia.”
Charles expressed support for the rapid vaccine roll-out in the UK: “As you undertake this absolutely vital work, I can only wish your every possible success in coming to the aid of our ethnic minority communities, for whom I hold the greatest affection.”
His use of the word “affection” was almost a lesson to some authoritarian leaders around the world who are often seen to be harsh in their treatment of minority communities.
Charles said: “Recently, I fear we have reached the most sobering milestone in this seemingly interminable campaign as we marked the tragic loss of 100,000 souls. It is clear that the virus has affected all parts of the country and all sections of society. But it is also clear that there are particular challenges faced in particular sections of our society, especially in some ethnic minority communities. What saddens me even further is to hear that those challenges are being made even worse by the variable uptake of the vaccines, which finally offers a way out of the suffering of the past year.”
He spoke of the rapid progress in vaccine development. “Therefore, it is surely a tragedy the benefits of such an extraordinary achievement should not be experienced by everybody.”
Charles has always believed in using religion to unite people rather than divide them, which bodes well for the future of a multi-religious, multicultural and multi-ethnic nation, where he wants to be “defender of faiths” rather than “defender of the faith”.
He was pleased that “places of worship of all faiths have become vaccination centres for all members of the community. The Al-Abbas Islamic Centre in Birmingham, the Neasden temple in London, and Blackburn Cathedral are just a few of many hugely encouraging examples. Over the years, I have become increasingly convinced that deep-seated and often intractable problems are always most effectively addressed when we work with local communities to understand their context, their concerns and their realities – and then to build their trust.”
He commended those “working with Muslim communities and their peers to encourage social mobility for young people and communities alike”.
He stressed the need to be inclusive: “Vaccination will save lives, will prevent serious illness will protect our health service, and will allow us to start to hope that things might return in some sense to normal for every member of our society.”
Charles, 72, and his wife, Camilla, 73, both had the first dose of the vaccine on February 10.
Meanwhile, Poonawalla said India will soon start exporting the Oxford-AstraZaneca vaccine made by his firm to the UK. He explained why the Serum Institute of India had very quickly tied up with Oxford University in the early days of the pandemic, why his company was so quick off the mark in manufacturing the vaccine, and how he was exporting 30-40 per cent of his firm’s output to poorer countries around the world as India met its moral and international obligations.
Poonawalla said his firm had just been checked and cleared by the UK’s MHRA (Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency). “Very soon we’re going to be shipping out some vaccines even to the UK.”
He emphasised: “In fact, we’ve already shipped out to more than 25 to 30 countries balancing very much despite huge pressures to maintain a lot of vaccine supply for India as well. So, I’ve been doing a balancing act to ship out, at least, 30-40 per cent of my monthly capacity to other nations.”
Anticipating demand for all sorts of vaccines, he started building capacity when he took over as CEO in 2011.
He said his firm “already had a relationship with Oxford and the great scientists there because we’re working with them on a malaria vaccine, which is now into phase three trials in Africa. So naturally, when we heard them announce this in the news, and we were talking to (Prof) Adrian Hill (director of the Jenner Institute, Oxford) and his team, we said, ‘Let’s try and come together,’ because eventually, if they were to succeed, which they have, you would need large scale manufacturing. And that’s where obviously it was a fit. And we came together in a matter of a week and put in agreements in place and started doing a technology transfer and moving on.”
Despite reports from South Africa that the vaccine apparently did not offer protection against mild forms of the disease, Poonawalla said: “it was a little skewed in its communication. It did not have anyone being hospitalised, going on a ventilator and going into a critical state of life-threatening situation. We should maintain that at the moment, these vaccines are protecting you from severe disease. When we tweak the vaccines at the end of this year, we will further improve on that performance as well.”
Others who participated in the webinar included vaccine minister Nadir Sahrawi; Prof Kevin Fenton, London regional director, Public Health England; Farida Fortune, Professor of oral immunobiology and regenerative medicine, Queen Mary University of London; and Dr Nikita Kanani MBE, medical director for primary care, NHS England and NHS Improvement.
Fortune told Ritula Shah, a BBC journalist who coordinated the discussion, that when she went into hospital, she was “absolutely shocked” to see wards full of patients “who looked like you and me”. When patients were removed, they were replaced by other Asians.
London mayor Sadiq Khan, said: “The latest data suggests that British people from a south Asian background are up to five times more likely to die from Covid-19 than their white counterparts.”