London GP personally calling at-risk patients to boost COVID-19 vaccine uptake

London GP Dr Farzana Hussain is personally telephoning scores of patients who have yet to accept a COVID-19 jab in a bid to tackle low uptake in her area.

Dr Farzana Hussain (Photo: Dr Hussain)
Dr Farzana Hussain (Photo: Dr Hussain)

Dr Hussain, who works at the Project Surgery in Newham, East London, told GPonline that just half of the 190 patients aged over 65 at her practice have been vaccinated - leaving her with a list of about 90 patients to call.

Uptake at her surgery is lower than the national average of more than 90%, and Dr Hussain said the majority of those who had not been vaccinated were from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) communities. She said patients were rejecting the jab for various reasons.

GPonline was alerted to low uptake rates among BAME patients last month, when GPs warned that misinformation was pushing up DNAs.

Vaccine hesitancy

Dr Hussain started calling patients last week and has managed to contact 50 so far, with around one in five changing their minds after a discussion. She uses the call to provide reliable advice, and to urge people to step forward.

‘In the vast majority of cases there is a hesitancy rather than outright rejection of the vaccine,’ she said. ‘A range of concerns came up, including misinformation around infertility and the use of animal products, which are both completely untrue.

‘Often people are concerned about the speed the vaccine has been developed, but more than 13m people in England have had it now, and it’s great to be able to say that with proof there are no issues.’

Dr Hussain said false information about the vaccine affecting fertility had been especially damaging to uptake rates among women from Asian and African backgrounds.

Misinformation

She said Muslim patients were hesitant about getting the vaccine due to fears of breaking fasting. Dr Hussain, a practising Muslim, said: ‘Getting an injection does not break the fast – it’s not nutrition. There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have it. The Koran says saving your life is the most important thing, to save one life is to save the whole of humanity. It’s a responsibility of a practising Muslim to take their vaccine.’

With GPs asked to begin vaccinating people in cohort 6 earlier this month, Dr Hussain said her practice was using trained community volunteers to call patients and encourage them to have the vaccine. ‘Being a British Bangladeshi woman, the issue of hesitancy among a group who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 is one that really hits home,' she said.

‘It’s so personal to me, people from BAME communities are dying because of misinformation; British Bangladeshis are five times more likely to die due to COVID-19. There was no doubt in my mind to get the vaccine in order to protect my children and make sure I am still here to look after them. I want others to make that same choice,’ she added.

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