Haunted by unfounded fears for their fertility, British Indians are more likely to resist getting COVID-19 vaccine

Indian Muslim Welfare Society (IMWS) Al-Hikmah-Centre
Patients waiting at the COVID-19 vaccination centre at the Indian Muslim Welfare Society (IMWS) Al-Hikmah-Centre in Batley, UK on February 1, 2021. Jon Super/AP Photos

British Indians are more likely to resist getting a COVID-19 vaccine due to unfounded fears about their fertility, largely spread through social media misinformation, according to reports.

A Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) poll found that confidence in accepting a COVID-19 vaccine was lowest among those of Asian ethnicity, of whom only 55% were likely to say yes to receiving one.

This is despite a Public Health England report finding that those from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 in England compared to white people. 

British Indians are the largest minority group in the UK and makeup 2.3% of the total population, according to the 2011 Census

The 1928 Institute, a think-tank established to continue the original India League’s work, also released their own report about the pandemic and vaccine uptake among the British Indian population.

It found that 56% of British Indians weren’t willing to take the vaccine or were unsure and when asked why they were unsure, the most common response was that they wanted more information.

British Indians
British Indians and Indian students queue outside a local restaurant in London, UK on May 08, 2020. Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

The founders of the institute, Dr. Nikita Ved and Kiran Kaur Manku, spoke to Insider about the causes of the low vaccine uptake rates. 

Ms. Manku said: “What we noticed anecdotally through our focus groups was that a lot of the men and women that might not take the vaccine have concerns that it would impede long-term fertility

“What’s quite interesting is that infertility is still stigmatized across the BAME communities, so this is understandable, and furthermore, BAME communities are more likely to have a complication from pregnancy, for example, stillbirth or gestational diabetes etc.”

According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), there is “absolutely no evidence” that COVID-19 vaccines affect women or men’s fertility.

British Indians are more likely to fall prey to disinformation, said Dr. Ved, because it was a way to assert a sense of control over what goes into their body, “because you’re so much further down the pecking order when it comes to hierarchies in society.”

She added: “I think the main reason behind that is disinformation through social media and WhatsApp forwards.”

The 1928 Institute has now teamed up with British Indian comedian Parle Patel to create a video to dispel the myths and correct the false narrative surrounding COVID-19 to encourage vaccine uptake.

Another featuring British Indian actors Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar has been broadcast on all the UK commercial TV channels.

Houses of worship have become vaccination centers to encourage British Indians to get vaccinated. A vaccine hub has been created at the Hindu temple, the Shree Swaminarayan Mandir, in northwest London, run by 20 surgeries is vaccinating 1,300 people per day.

Brent, the borough in which the temple is located, had the highest overall age-standardized COVID-19 mortality of any local authority in England and Wales between March 1 and June 30, 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Shree Swaminarayan Hindu Mandir
File photo showing a general view of Shree Swaminarayan Hindu Mandir in London, UK on July 30, 2007. Stephen Kelly/PA Images via Getty Images

Another has been set up by the Indian Muslim Welfare Society (IMWS) at the Al-Hikmah Centre in Batley, West Yorkshire, to promote vaccine uptake in the Muslim community affected by baseless claims of the vaccine containing pork and alcohol.

Politicians and health officials of British Indian heritage, including the Home Secretary Priti Patel, have also campaigned to dispel the COVID-19 myths.