Learn lessons from lack of diversity in pandemic messaging, says black professor

Aine Fox, PA

A more diverse line-up of experts should have been prominent throughout the pandemic to help promote coronavirus vaccines, a professor has said.

Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, of Heriot-Watt University, said black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) experts should have been standing alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson to speak about the virus from the beginning, and insisted lessons must be learned.

Sir Geoff, Scotland’s first black professor, said that, while there has been a “slight shift” in the right direction, he thinks “it’s a little bit late”.

The Professor Emeritus in the School of Life Sciences told Sky News: “I think what people tend to forget – we are a diverse society, and a diverse society needs diverse management.

“And especially with regard to health. We should have had, at the beginning of this, diverse voices from experts, meaning that we should have BAME experts on the virus speaking, standing next to the Prime Minister, next to our First Minister in Scotland.

“And I think there’s been a slight shift to that, but I think it’s a little bit late.”

Professor Sir Geoff Palmer
Professor Sir Geoff Palmer is Scotland’s first black professor (Professor Sir Geoff Palmer/PA)

The professor said he and his wife have both had the vaccine, as have friends who are almost 80.

He added: “More BAME people are taking the vaccine, because BAME people are being seen promoting it and I think that this is a lesson we should learn.

“We are a diverse society. It needs diverse management and it needs diverse experts in order to assure the people that what they are being told is true.”

It comes after Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said health and community leaders have been “too slow” to react to anti-vax messages circulating on social media.

She said there has been a “real distrust” around the Covid-19 vaccination programme in some communities – particularly in those from African, Caribbean and Asian backgrounds.

Last week leading surgeon Martin Griffiths, who works at Barts Health NHS Trust in London and is also NHS England’s national clinical director for violence reduction, urged people with BAME backgrounds to get the jab, after suffering from Covid and receiving the vaccination himself.

UK researchers are looking at the reasons why people from BAME backgrounds have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, through four new projects funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Previous research has found that black people are nearly four times as likely to die from Covid-19 as white people, while data suggests that people from Asian backgrounds are up to two-and-a- half times more likely to die.

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