UK temples, mosques help combat COVID-19 vaccine fake news

London: Temples and mosques are among the community organisations being rallied by the UK government to combat worrying instances of fake news around COVID-19 vaccines, including unsubstantiated WhatsApp messages, claiming the jabs contain questionable ingredients.

The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir or Neasden Temple in London, one of the UK’s largest temples, has been addressing many of these concerns and doubts during its daily live webcasts watched by thousands and through videos in Indian languages.

Several other temples, gurdwaras and mosques have also been stepping in to dispel fake news around the three COVID-19 vaccines now given regulatory clearance in the UK Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna as reports suggested a lower uptake within the country’s ethnic minority communities amid suspect WhatsApp messages claiming they may contain alcohol or meat.

“Whilst it is understandable for some people to be nervous about taking the vaccine, to allay any doubts or concerns, we have been announcing and encouraging people to take the vaccine and consult with their healthcare professional or family practitioner, if necessary, during daily live webcasts from Neasden Temple every evening, the Neasden Temple said in a statement.

“We have held regular meetings with officials and ministers to get the correct picture and have been raising awareness around the safety of these jabs. There are no questionable ingredients in it from a religious point of view and we want the British Hindu community to have the right information and protect themselves because we know from the data that ethnic minorities are at greater risk from this dangerous virus, said Rajnish Kashyap, General Secretary of Hindu Council UK, who warned that many of the fake WhatsApp messages originate from the Indian subcontinent.

The Sikh Doctors Association (SDA) has also been running a similar awareness drive for the British Sikh community, through a rolling review of the vaccines to address any concerns over their makeup or side effects.

“As the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out gains pace, we want to share what this means for everyone in the Sikh community and beyond Taking your vaccine as it is offered to you is of vital importance; it will prevent a great deal of illness and death,” notes Dr Sukhdev Singh, a Birmingham-based general practitioner (GP) and chair of the SDA, as part of a Vaccines Advisory.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) launched a campaign to highlight that the COVID-19 vaccines are halal through dedicated Friday sermons on the topic.

“MINAB strongly recommends people to take the vaccines. The Covid vaccines administered in the UK are halal, permissible from Islamic perspective, and there should be no hesitation in taking them from a moral perspective,” said Imam Qari Asim, Chair of MINAB.

“MINAB is advocating this position through its proactive endeavour for the BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] communities to be vaccinated, as BAME communities are at very high risk of being infected by this lethal virus Don’t miss the opportunity by believing in fake news’ about the vaccines, he said.

The widespread community drive was welcomed by the Vaccine Deployment minister, Nadhim Zahawi, who urged people to not fall prey to conspiracy theories being shared online.

“People send WhatsApps, videos, all kinds of messages if you don’t know where that’s coming from then it is very likely to be inaccurate Information is our ally in the fight against COVID-19, he said.

A British Indian GP who is heading up the National Health Service (NHS) drive against disinformation also hailed the collective efforts of religious and community groups in combating fake news.

“We need to be clear and make people realise there is no meat in the vaccine, there is no pork in the vaccine, it has been accepted and endorsed by all the religious leaders and councils and faith communities,” said Dr Harpreet Sood, NHS England’s Associate Chief Clinical Information Officer.

The NHS has been accelerating its vaccination programme in the past few weeks, through more than 200 hospitals sites along with around 800 GP-led services, large-scale mass vaccination centres as well as high street pharmacies being deployed for delivery.

The government has committed to vaccinating all top priority groups of over-70s and frontline workers by mid-February as a means out of the strict stay-at-home lockdown in place to control a surge in coronavirus infections.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), behind the independent clearance for the two-dose jabs, has reiterated that all the vaccines cleared for rollout follow thorough and rigorous assessment by its teams of scientists.