Sir Lenny Henry has written an open letter to encourage Black Britons to take the COVID-19 vaccine, signed by some of the most high-profile names in the UK.
12 Years a Slave actor and Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, author Malorie Blackman, actor Thandie Newton, football pundit Garth Crooks, performer George the Poet and musician KSI, radio personality Trevor Nelson and Bridgerton star Adjoa Andoh are among those who have put their names to the letter which encourages Black adults in the UK to make informed decisions about the vaccine and protect themselves and the people they care for by getting vaccinated when their turn comes.
Sir Lenny’s letter, supported by the NHS, has also been turned into a powerful short film, directed by BAFTA award winner Amma Asante, which features Lenny alongside Adrian Lester, David Harewood, Naomie Ackie, Rt Rev Rose Hudson Wilkin, Bishop of Dover and Adjoa Andoh.
The film will be aired across Sky, BT Sport, Viacom, Discovery, A&E and ROK between 8pm and 9.30pm.
Sir Lenny Henry said: “I felt it was important to do my bit and so I wrote this letter to Black Britain asking people not to get left behind, to not continue to be disproportionately impacted and to trust the facts from our doctors, professors and scientists, not just in the UK but across the world, including the Caribbean and Africa.
“I hear and understand the concerns which people of all backgrounds are wrestling with, but which are particularly concerning in Black communities. I want people to be safe, I don’t want people to die or end up in hospital because of COVID-19. So I’m saying, when your turn comes, take the jab.
“I want to thank everyone who has signed the letter and dear friends who took part in Amma’s beautiful film.”
More than 30 million people have now received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, meaning over half of the UK’s adult population have been vaccinated and will soon develop strong protection from serious illness, saving lives and significantly reducing pressures on the NHS.
Television veteran Sir Lenny says he understands the concerns of many in the Black community but tells them he does not want their concerns about the jab to leave them disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
An Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey taken from January 13 to February 7 shows that less than half (49 percent) of Black or Black British adults reported that they were likely to have the vaccine and NHS data shows that only 466,000 Black of Black British adults have had a first dose of the vaccine so far.
Amma Asante, who directed the film, said: “Creating something for the community I come from was important to me, particularly on a health issue that is as life and death as coronavirus.
“I wanted to make a film that acknowledges the concerns of Black people while sharpening the lens on why the vaccine is so important, and why we deserve to have our lives and the lives of our loved ones protected.
“I hope the film can contribute to making a difference.”
Professor Kevin Fenton, London’s Regional Director for Public Health England, said: “We know our Black communities have been among the hardest hit during this pandemic, but we also know there are some among us who are less likely to come forward for the life-saving vaccine.
“We can all play a role in encouraging our friends and family to take it up when offered, whether that’s answering questions or concerns they may have, pointing them towards information and advice from trusted sources, sharing our own experiences of getting the vaccine or declining to pass on myths and misinformation circulating on social media.
“Getting back to normal life in the UK will mean every one of us joining the over 30 million people across the UK who have already taken up the vaccine. So I am fully behind Sir Lenny’s call to our Black communities. Let’s all do our bit, keep our loved ones safe and end this pandemic sooner rather than later.”
People who have received a letter inviting them for a jab can log on to the national booking service and choose from 1,700 vaccination sites. Anyone unable to book online can call 119 free of charge, anytime between 7am and 11pm 7 days a week.
Signatories to the letter have come from across the spectrum of British society. From the business world, signatories include Karen Blackett OBE, Ric Lewis, Sonita Alleyne OBE, Eric Collins, and Wilfred Jones. Names from the arts and entertainment include Malorie Blackman, Lemn Sissay, Roy Williams, Reni Eddo-Lodge, George The Poet and KSI and from sport – Garth Crooks and Chris Hughton. Names from science and medicine have also supported the campaign, including Professor Kevin Fenton and Dame Donna Kinnair.
Baroness Valerie Amos, Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Trevor Phillips have also added their names.
The government is working with the NHS, local authorities, charities and faith leaders to provide advice and public health information in over 13 languages to people from all communities and backgrounds to ensure they come forward for the vaccine.