Four health messaging concerns among ethnic minorities have been identified by community groups, including strong “anti-vaxx” sentiment among Eastern Europeans.
There are also concerns some asylum seekers may be wary of engaging with the coronavirus vaccination programme due to fears it is connected to the Home Office, MSPs were told.
The umbrella group BEMIS Scotland, which represents voluntary groups working with ethnic minorities, has carried out a survey of its members to help identify causes of vaccine hesitancy.
Danny Boyle, policy officer for BEMIS Scotland, presented its initial findings to the Scottish Parliament’s Covid-19 Committee on Thursday.
He said: “What we’re getting back from that survey covers what we would identify as four key areas.”
Mr Boyle said these are around asylum seekers and refugees, newer arrivals such as Polish and Eastern European communities, multi-generational Scottish ethnic minority communities such as those of Pakistani, Indian, Irish, Jewish and Sikh backgrounds, and specific concerns relating to African and black communities.
He said many reasons for vaccine hesitancy among minorities are the same as among the population overall, but the survey highlighted further issues.
Mr Boyle said: “For asylum seekers, if it looks like the Home Office – if it is seen to come from an official source – there is routinely a concern for these communities in engaging via these normal practises which all of us would potentially take for granted.
“That’s due to the Home Office undermining these people’s experiences and having a negative relationship with them.
“For newer migrant communities, Eastern Europeans, we’ve established that there’s a bit of a hangover from the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, with a strong anti-vaxx sentiment within some Eastern European demographics, particularly younger populations.”
For the multi-generational communities, he said finding appropriate language capacity to communicate effectively had been a challenge.
One of the most concerning results, he said, related to black and African communities.
Mr Boyle said: “There is a concern and a misrepresentation within some groups that the vaccine is still at a process of using some ethnic minority communities – particularly African and black people who have suffered a history of racialisation – that they are being used as guinea pigs.”
He said the Scottish Government is working with community groups to help spread reliable information about the vaccine, but Scotland is not currently collecting ethnicity data at the point of vaccination.
Grant Archibald, chief executive of NHS Tayside, also appeared at the Covid-19 Committee.
He said vaccine hesitancy has so far been “remarkably low”, perhaps as little as 1%.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was asked about the survey’s findings at the coronavirus briefing on Thursday.
She said: “It wouldn’t surprise me if there were some groups that are more reluctant to come forward, not because of vaccine scepticism but a whole range of different factors at play, and we need to work to overcome that.
“But overall the levels of uptake that we are seeing suggest much higher levels than we see in other vaccination programmes.
“So I think there is a lot to be positive about here but no room for complacency, we want everybody who’s eligible for this vaccine to get it.”