Faith groups and local leaders are assuring the South Asian community that the coronavirus vaccine is safe, amid misinformation over its contents.

The Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall Gurdwara, Baitul Futuh Mosque and the MP for Ealing, Southall are speaking out against fake news on social media that is causing vaccine scepticism.

This follows concerns raised by Dr Harpreet Sood, who is leading an NHS anti-disinformation drive, that fake news, language and cultural barriers are causing some people within South Asian communities to reject Covid vaccinations.

Labour MP for Ealing, Southall, Virendra Sharma said: “I urge everyone who can to have a vaccine when it is offered. 

"This will save lives and livelihoods and help the country back to normal. I have every confidence the South Asian community will look reasonably at the issue and see that these vaccines are safe and necessary.”

What are the rumours?

The information spread on social media, through apps like Whatsapp where individuals can quickly forward messages, make false claims such as the vaccines including animal products like pork and beef.

This raises specific concerns among some South Asian communities as it goes against the religious beliefs of Muslims and Hindus and has resulted in some rejecting the jab.

Vaccine Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, urged the public on BBC Asia Network today that the vaccine is safe and ruled out that there are strictly no animal products used in the vaccines.

Misinformation regarding other topics on Covid have also been raised among the South Asian population in south and south west London.

Whilst some believe that the misinformation is spread with malicious intent, others have told us that it is often from confusion, particularly among the elderly.

One South Asian Ealing resident shared a Whastapp message that they had received which urged them to eat more ‘alkaline’ fruits and drink warm lemon water to eliminate the virus.

The messages which have been forwarded ‘many times’ regularly ask individuals not to withhold information but to pass it on to friends and family.

A study by the Royal Society for Public Health released in December found that 57% of BAME people said they would take the vaccine in comparison to 79% of white people.

Since the beginning of the pandemic multiple reports and research by Public Health England (PHE), Runnymede Trust and other organisations have highlighted the disproportionate impact of Covid on BAME communities.

Last June, a PHE report found that people from black and Asian ethnic groups were twice as likely to die from Covid compared to white people.

Debunking myths in the community

Faith leaders in the community are trying to educate more people about the vaccine and are reassuring members of its safety.

Harmeet Gill, General Secretary, Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall Gurdwara spoke about the misinformation within the Sikh community and how some of it comes from the elderly sharing content they genuinely believe is true.

He said: “Sadly it’s having an impact for sure. For example, one Gurdwara was arranging for their priests to be vaccinated and they all refused to and these are some of the leaders of the community who have fallen prey to these false messages.

“I know it’s quite prevalent, I’ve seen a lot of messages flying around on social media and Whatsapp which often you can tell straight away it’s nonsense.

"But especially among the elderly where English may not be their first language they tend to believe such messages and tend to forward them on, so it’s a bit of a concern.

"The elderly tend to believe what they see and so when the messages come from a relative or friend or family group they tend to believe it more than they should do.”

In a bid to debunk misinformation the Gurdwara is trying to educate its members about the vaccine by disseminating positive messages from the NHS, holding webinars and talks in English and Punjabi with Sikh doctors.

This includes a Q&A webinar event next Thursday on the Covid vaccine for the Sikh community available in both English and Punjabi.

Harmeet added that more needed to be done on a community level to help prevent the spread of Covid misinformation.

He said: “We’re only going to win the battle of hearts and mind if the news comes from reliable and trusted sources. So as much as the central government or top-level NHS pumps out media, giving out statements or videos, they tend to be disbelieved even more.

"What they need to do is work from the ground, grassroots organisations because those are the people that people are familiar with and trust and that’s what we're doing. A lot of people have lost faith and trust in the system.”

Within some misinformation claims, some Muslims have raised concerns over the vaccine containing alcohol.

Sabah Ahmedi, a spokesperson for the Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden approved of the use of the vaccine and claimed that Islam allows the use of alcohol for medical purposes.

He said: “Now the government has approved the vaccine and is offering it to the public then I would certainly say people should avail it in my opinion. We should do whatever it takes to stay safe. Personally, I will take it when I am offered it.

“In regards to people debating whether to take the vaccine or not because it contains alcohol, as far as I know it does not contain it.

"However, even if it did then Muslims can still take it as Islam allows the use of alcohol to be use for medical purposes only. Islam is a religion of ease and understanding and if so treatments do contain these things then they can be used to save lives.”