‘Vaxi taxi’ takes the message – and all faiths – to jab clinics

Image credit: Covid Crisis Rescue Foundation.

By Lianne Kolirin

A Muslim and a Jewish doctor have joined forces to launch London’s first mobile vaccination unit.

Dr Yasmin Razak, clinical director of the Neohealth Primary Care Network team based in west London, led the project supported by Dr Sharon Raymond, director of Covid Crisis Rescue Foundation.

Together Dr Razak, a practising Muslim, and Dr Raymond, an orthodox Jew, piloted their first outreach programme in North Kensington, home to a variety of cultures and religious groups

A “vaxi taxi” transported all the necessary equipment to the Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, and the Venture Community Centre in the borough, on Sunday. The vehicle, a converted and fully accessible black cab, also helped to take isolated members of the community to one of the centres, as part of the drive to increase uptake of the Covid-19 jab among faith and ethnic minority groups.

A poll by the Royal Society for Public Health found that 76 per cent of people overall would willingly have a Covid vaccination — but this fell to 57 per cent of respondents from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, told MPs last month that the NHS needed to combat “systematic efforts to misinform and lie” and the “longstanding mistrust” in some communities to ensure equitable distribution.

Speaking to Sky News yesterday, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said overall take-up of the vaccine was “very high”, with data from the Office for National Statistics showing 85 per cent of adults were very likely to take up the offer of a jab. However, he said the remaining 15 per cent “skew heavily towards BAME communities and especially Afro-Caribbean, black communities and of course other Asian and [minority] communities”.

Dr Razak, who is a GP at the Golborne Medical Centre in one of the most deprived wards in London, told the Religion Media Centre that carrying the message — and the vaccine — to the heart of the community was all-important.

“It felt very powerful because it was about reaching the hearts of our citizens through their community centres and faith groups. It enables our communities to take part in the national response to this crisis,” she said.

“This will allow us to go from strength to strength to provide community immunity and also, we hope, lead to further opportunities for health and wellbeing and healing.”

The Al Manaar centre is home to the community kitchen that the Duchess of Sussex regularly visited after the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.

Dr Razak said: “It was all about getting an avenue into the heart of the community and building bridges across faith groups with everyone helping each other. That’s what we did at Grenfell and that’s how we healed and that’s how we moved forward.”

The two women now hope to extend the initiative across the capital in a joint partnership, setting up in community centres and places of worship on a regular basis. Next week they will be offering vaccination at an immigration centre in London.

Dr Raymond told the RMC: “My vision, since the vaccination started, was to have a fleet of mobile units going out on to every street and vaccinating 24/7. There are people out there who can’t access healthcare easily. These include people with learning disabilities and people from deprived and disadvantaged populations.

“The vaxi taxi is equipped not just with the vaccine, but with specialist clinicians who explain what the vaccine is and address any myths and barriers to uptake of the vaccine and that’s really key. Our goal is to reach people of all faiths, people of no faiths and those people who don’t have ready access to healthcare.”

The vaxi taxi was also on hand to take those who are housebound or who have no other means of transport. The team have now approached Mayor of London Sadiq Khan about offering help with transport in order to expand the scheme.

Elsewhere other faith groups have been joining forces to dispel misinformation and encourage take-up of the jab among their communities. Representatives from a broad spectrum of churches and other Christian organisations joined forces to produce a film aimed at encouraging their followers to have the vaccine.

The Give Hope campaign is co-ordinated by the YourNeighbour network, a Christian organisation offering frontline support during the pandemic. Anglican bishops have joined Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches to make clear that fake news and misinformation is dissuading BAME people from being vaccinated.

The footage, entitled Give Hope and which can be viewed on YouTube, features religious representatives from different organisations, among them Yinka Oyekan, of the Baptist Union.

He says: “While our churches may look different, there’s one thing we are all agreed upon: We have to do everything in our power to give hope and stop Covid.”

Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York, adds: “One thing we can all do is ensure that we take the vaccine when we are offered it. This is one of best and fastest routes out of this terrible pandemic.”

Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover and the Church of England’s first female black bishop, says: “If the vaccine was good enough for Her Majesty, then it’s good enough for us.”

Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, says: “It’s an act of love for our neighbours, our very close neighbours, our friends and family, but also for the wider community and indeed for the world.”