Comedian and actor Sir Lenny Henry has penned a heartfelt letter encouraging Black communities in Britain to feel safe taking the COVID-19 vaccine and look forward to a post-pandemic future.
The letter, supported by the NHS, has been signed by a number of celebrities including actors Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, historian David Olusoga, news anchor Charlene White, and YouTuber KSI.
The letter recognises “legitimate worries and concerns,” that stem from lower historical trust of authorities and institutions due to experiences of racism, but calls on communities to “trust the facts."
Accompanying the release of Henry’s letter, a short film, called A Letter to Loved Ones was produced by BAFTA award-winning director Amma Asante and stars Adrian Lester, David Harewood, and Bridgerton’s Adjoa Andoh, alongside Henry. It was aired across multiple television channels including Sky and Channel 5 at 8 p.m., on March 29, and can be viewed on YouTube.
“Dear mums, dads, grandparents, uncles, aunties, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, daughters, sons, and cousins… We love you!” the letter begins. “And, we want to see you again.”
It goes on to talk about all the things people are missing out on that everyone is looking forward to finally doing together again once COVID-19 restrictions lift.
“We want to hug you, we want to celebrate with you, we want to go out for dinner with you, we want to worship with you, we want to go and watch football and cricket with you...” it says. “But in order to do all that we all need to take the COVID-19 jab. It’s all of us in this together.”
'COVID-19 has kept us apart for far too long. We want to hug you, we want to celebrate with you, we want to go out for dinner with you...'— NHS England and NHS Improvement (@NHSEngland) March 30, 2021
Sir @LennyHenry urges Black Britons to get the COVID-19 vaccine, in a 'letter to loved ones'.
“Because we love you – we want you to be safe and we don’t want you to be left out or left behind. While other communities are rushing to get the vaccine and millions have already been vaccinated, some Black people in our community are being more cautious,” it continues.
Henry was prompted to publish the letter because of the much lower COVID-19 vaccination rates among Black Britons.
According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, vaccination rates for people in England identifying as having Black African heritage stand at 58.8%, the lowest among all ethnic minority groups, the BBC reports. That figure rises to a 68.7% take-up within the Black Caribbean community — but by contrast, the estimated take-up rate for people identifying as white British is 91.3%.
The lower take-up is especially worrying because a wide-ranging study of 18 million people published last November showed that Black people are twice as likely to catch COVID-19 as white people.
Henry mentions — both in the written letter and the video — that people have “legitimate worries and concerns,” referencing a historical distrust of health institutions derived from experiences of racism and bias from within the health service.
“We hear that,” he says. “We know change needs to happen and that it’s hard to trust some institutions and authorities.”
However, he adds, “we are asking you to trust the facts about the vaccine from our own professors, doctors, scientists involved in the vaccine’s development, GPs, not just in the UK but across the world including the Caribbean and Africa.”
Sandra Husbands, the director of public health in Hackney, London, told Thomson Reuters Foundation in February: "People are understandably uncomfortable because of this history of structural medical racism.”
“From slave plantations to the 1932 Tuskegee experiment, in which African American men were falsely told they were being treated for syphilis, Black people have historically been mistreated in the name of science,” said Husbands.
Henry told the BBC Breakfast programme that he found creating the video “very moving.”
"It came together really quickly, within a couple of weeks we were making the film. People were all over the place. We all managed to make this little film with Amma directing us remotely,” he said.
He added: “The vaccine has been tested for all ethnicities. It's safe, it's our way out of the pandemic.”
“If you're in any way hesitant, talk to a medical professional… trust the experts, don't trust your mate down the pub or conspiracies online,” he continued. “This is serious now. Don't be misinformed.”