Cumbria Times
Weekend Edition
12:33 PM 30th March 2021

Sir Lenny Henry Urges Black Britons To Take COVID-19 Vaccine

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.

Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, actor Thandie Newton, radio personality Trevor Nelson, musician KSI and author Malorie Blackman are among the signatories on Sir Lenny Henry’s open letter
A short film based on the letter by BAFTA award-winning director Amma Asante stars Adrian Lester, David Harewood, and Bridgerton’s Adjoa Andoh, and will be aired across Sky, BT Sport, Viacom, Discovery, A&E and ROK and Channel 5 tonight from 8pm
The letter comes as 30 million people have had their first dose of the vaccine – over half the UK’s adult population

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 13 January to 7 February shows that less than half (49%) 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.

Find more information on the COVID-19 vaccine.

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.

Sir Lenny Henry’s letter in full

Dear mums, dads, grandparents, uncles, aunties, brothers, sisters, nephew, nieces, daughters, sons and cousins,

We love you!

We know we don’t say it often enough and sometimes we have our disagreements, like all families do, but wherever you are we love you from the bottom of our hearts and we know you love us.

And we want to see you again. COVID-19 has kept us apart for far too long. We want to hug you, we want to celebrate with you, we want to go out for dinner with you, we want to worship with you, we want to go and watch football and cricket with you, we want to beat you at video games – in the same room so we can see the look on your face when we do.

But in order to do all that – we all need to take the COVID-19 jab. It’s all of us in this together.

Things will slowly get back to normal. Well what people are calling the new normal. The reality is the new normal may mean needing a vaccine to do many of the things we now take for granted.

Because we love you – we want you to be safe and we don’t want you to be left out or left behind. While other communities are rushing to get the vaccine and millions have already been vaccinated, some Black people in our community are being more cautious.

You have legitimate worries and concerns, we hear that. We know change needs to happen and that it’s hard to trust some institutions and authorities.

But we’re asking you to trust the facts about the vaccine from our own professors, doctors, scientists involved in the vaccine’s development, GPs, not just in the UK but across the world including the Caribbean and Africa. Many of whom are our relatives, many of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the people of this country from this pandemic.

And the thousands who volunteered to be part of the vaccine trials so that we know it’s safe and works for people of all ethnicities.

Don’t let their sacrifice be in vain. Don’t let your understandable fears be what holds you back. Don’t let your concerns be the thing that widens racial inequality in our society. Don’t let Black people continue to be disproportionately impacted by this terrible disease. Many in our community say they do not want to take the vaccine, much more than other groups. But the fact is we have been disproportionately affected by the virus, many of our loved ones have died. Don’t let coronavirus cost even more Black lives.

We love you. We don’t want you to get sick. We don’t want you to die.

We know you love us too so please hear us and when your turn comes, take the jab.

And once you do, tell cousin Mo to do the same (is he really my cousin?)

Let’s do this together.

Thank you.

Signatories to the letter

Dr Maggie Aderin Pocock, MBE
Sir David Adjaye, OBE, architect
Naomi Ackie, actor
Sonita Alleyne, OBE, Master, Jesus College, Cambridge
Baroness Valerie Amos, Master, University College Oxford
Amma Asante, MBE, writer/director
Adjoa Andoh, actor
Zeinab Badawi, Journalist, Chair, Royal African Society
Karen Blackett, OBE, GroupM UK CEO, WPP Country Manager
Malorie Blackman, OBE, writer
I. Stephanie Boyce, Deputy Vice President, Law Society
Dr Margaret Casely-Hayford, CBE, Lawyer, Chair, Shakespeare’s Globe, Chancellor, Coventry University
Dr Nira Chamberlain FIMA FORS CSci PhD HonDSc, President of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications
Eric Collins, CEO, Impact X Capital
Garth Crooks, OBE, ex-footballer/football pundit
Professor Patricia Daley, Vice Principal at Jesus College, Oxford
Reni Eddo-Lodge, aournalist and Author
Chiwetel Ejiofor, CBE, actor
Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, MBE, The Black Farmer
Ekow Eshun, writer and broadcaster
Professor Kevin Fenton, London’s Regional Director for Public Health England
Simon Frederick, TV director and photographer
George the Poet, spoken-word artist, poet
Patricia Hamzahee, advisor, investor, philanthropist
David Harewood, MBE, actor
Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, MBE, actor
Rev Rose Hudson Wilkin, Bishop of Dover MBE
Chris Hughton, Football Manager at Nottingham Forest Football Club
Dame Vivian Hunt
Adrian Joseph, OBE, Managing Director, Group AI and Data Solutions at BT
Kanya King, CBE, Founder MOBO Awards
Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing
Wol Kolade, Managing Partner at Livingbridge
Carol Lake
KSI (Olajide Olatunji), musician, YouTuber
Baroness Doreen Lawrence
Adrian Lester, CBE, actor
Darren Lewis, Assistant Editor, Daily Mirror
Denise Lewis, OBE, Olympic heptathlon gold medallist, TV Sports Presenter
Ric Lewis, Executive Chairman, Tristan Capital Partners, Founder Black Heart Foundation
Trevor Nelson, MBE, radio personality
Thandie Newton, OBE, actor
Dr Sandie Okoro, Senior Vice President and Group General Counsel, World Bank
Sir Kenneth Olisa, Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London
David Olusoga, OBE, historian and broadcaster
Trevor Phillips, OBE, writer, broadcaster, businessman
Professor Cynthia Pine, CBE, Professor of Dental Public Health, Queen Mary University of London
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol
Dr Nicola Rollock, Distinguished Fellow, Faculty of Education at University of Cambridge
Tom Shropshire, General Counsel, Diageo
Lemn Sissay, MBE, author, poet and broadcaster
Tevin Tobun, CEO and Founder of GV Group
Alex Wheatle MBE, novelist
Dame Sharon White, Chair of John Lewis Partnership
Charlene White, TV news anchor, ITV
Roy Williams, OBE, playwright
Marcia Willis Stewart QC, Director, Birnberg Pierce
Lord Simon Woolley, Founder and Director of Operation Black Vote
Gary Younge, Professor, Manchester University and journalist