The BMA believes that the COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved for use in the UK are safe, and we encourage all doctors and patients to get vaccinated at the earliest opportunity in line with government guidance on restricted groups.
The MHRA, the official UK regulator authorising licensed use of medicines and vaccines by healthcare professionals, has said these vaccines are safe and highly effective.
Although vaccination is not mandatory, we believe that every patient should have the relevant information to make an informed choice for themselves.
Help patients to make an informed choice
It is essential that information and communications about the vaccine are appropriate and accessible, particularly where people are vaccine hesitant and misinformation is circulating.
Patients can only make an informed choice if they can both access and understand the information they are provided. Remember:
- many people with vaccine hesitancy have been historically marginalised, and it is important to build trust as a foundation to having conversations about the vaccine
- the vaccine is not mandatory, but you can help patients to understand the health benefits by providing them with all the relevant information
- the information you provide to patients should be in a format that is accessible to them (e.g. in plain English, translated into BSL or other languages).
Communicating with patients and the public
Doctors can improve health outcomes by having open, honest, and transparent conversations about the vaccine with their patients.
Recognising the unique contexts in which people live, and the difficulties many have in adhering to public health guidance, can help to build and maintain trust when communicating with different groups about the vaccine.
Doctors should aim to:
- give patients clear guidance and check for understanding
- help diminish stigma, and avoid blaming or stereotyping
- be non-judgmental and respectful
- use the first person
- engender trust
- co-produce communication materials
- clearly communicate the rationale for decision-making, underlying recommendations and policies, including any changes
- adjust communication style for differing literacy, education and language levels, suitable for a culturally diverse population, and accessible in all formats
- keep information sources up to date
- give clear advice on mitigating risk, involve the public in shared decision making about trade-offs, and acknowledge that not everyone has equal choice in avoiding risk
- support equity - commit to identifying and targeting vulnerable groups who may not be on, or have fallen off, systems with tailored communications and support
- provide reliable, accessible sources of information and address misinformation.
Communication should not:
- use jargon
- treat people as passive objects
- have contradictory messaging (where this does occur address it swiftly).
Discussing the vaccine with patients who have concerns
The key messages about the vaccine are the same for all. However, some communities may have specific concerns which should be taken into consideration when delivering messages about the vaccine.
According to the resources guide from the NHS, in addition to the FAQs that all groups want to know, some people e.g. from ethnic minority communities, may also need more detailed information about:
- who was involved in clinical trials
- clarity on the side effects and safety
- clarity on the ingredients
- details on MHRA approval
- details on how the vaccine was developed so quickly
- links to further information from community and faith leaders
- the opportunity, if possible, to consult with a clinician about their reservations before reaching a decision.
Resources to share with patients
In addition to NHS guidance, many organisations provide information and resources about the vaccine in ways that are tailored to the needs of different groups. See below for links and resources to share.
- Guidance on public health messaging for communities from different cultural backgrounds (gov.uk)
- Rapid report on vaccine hesitancy (Co-produce Care)
- Workshop series for frontline workers from ethnic minority backgrounds (Co-produce Care)
- Coronavirus vaccines explained in five South Asian languages: Sylheti, Gujarati, Tamil, Urdu and Punjabi (BBC news)
- Covid-19 vaccine advice videos translated into Arabic, Farsi, Gujarati, Urdu, Punjabi and English. (NHS Hesa Centre)
There are organisations and individual influencers on social media providing accessible and culturally competent information about the vaccine that can be shared:
- Black women in health (BWIH) on Facebook and Instagram
- Dr Nighat Arif providing information on women’s health and vaccine hesitancy on Twitter and TikTok
- Dr Jahangir Alom has created an Instagram @immunity_for_the_community and twitter account @vaccine_safe where doctors can share selfies and information to reach
- The Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board recent initiative to deliver vaccine messaging at mosque services.
- The British Islamic Medical Association position statements on the Pfizer Biotech and Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccines.
- Muslim Doctors Cymru promote health in Muslim communities across Wales and have videos and webinars about the vaccines.
- Forum on vaccine misinformation (Vaccine Today)
- COVID vaccine and cancer (Cancer Research UK)
- Statements about the Covid-19 vaccine for children, young people and the paediatric workforce (RCPCH)
- The BMA are running a #HadMyJab communications campaign that all doctors can engage with.
If you would like to do more work to help built partnerships with places of worship or engage with supporting these community groups contact us at [email protected]