As part of our Black History Month #ProudToBe celebrations, we spoke to Dr Linus Onah, Bedfordshire GP and CCG Governing Body member, about his work tackling vaccine hesitancy in the local community.
“My name is Linus Onah, I’m a Bedfordshire GP but originally from Southeast Nigeria where I studied medicine at the University of Nigeria. I then moved to the UK for a postgraduate degree in Public Health where I met my wife and decided to settle and make our home with our two sons.
“The first thing to acknowledge, when tackling hesitancy, is to remember those in our community have as much as a right as everyone else to good health and life outcomes and to help achieve this we have a responsibility, as the NHS and local health care leaders, to respond to any concerns and empower people with information.
“The pandemic has brought to light the disparities seen in our population in terms of health care outcomes. It is important we reflect and try to address this to deliver care not just to those who are easy to reach and can advocate for themselves, but to everyone.
“We have seen similar patterns in disparities in things like the uptake of screening programmes, childhood immunisation, access to poor housing and good quality education. Addressing vaccine hesitancy is one way to help us tackle these wider issues for our population.
“To help us tackle hesitancy in the community, we have worked as a team. We have had the privilege and trust of community and religious leaders, as well as health care professionals and Local Authority colleagues who have shown a great deal of commitment, to organise community engagement events and listen to residents to understand their anxieties and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine. We do this in a compassionate, non-judgemental manner to help residents make better choices for themselves and their families.
“We engage via organised online events targeting minority communities and care workers and religious groups. We also run multimedia campaigns that include social media and radio talk shows. It has very much been a team effort and I think the credit goes to everyone who has got involved to deliver what has been achieved.
“Through my experience, I have learnt that not all those who are hesitant are necessarily anti vaccine and many have rational concerns that are often quantified by pre-existing health beliefs and previous experience. This insight is important because it means that just repeating scientific facts and counteracting misinformation with logic is probably not enough. We need to listen and acknowledge people’s anxieties in an open, non-judgemental way to give them the opportunity to work in their own way and pace. It can be a time-consuming process, but it is worth it and when it’s done correctly, it works.
“It is important to remember when working as a GP, or in the NHS, your work impacts on people’s lives and that is the challenge, but it is also the reward.”