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Dentists can help tackle vaccine misinformation

Blog Author Mustafa Nawaz Khan

Blog Date 01/03/2021

​On becoming a vaccinator and what dentists can do to help tackle vaccine misinformation and help engage BAME communities.

 

Mustafa Nawaz Khan administering COVID-19 vaccines

 

I became a vaccinator for the same reason I become a dentist – I wanted to make a difference. So far, my team and I have given over 20,000 vaccinations at my local practice in the multi-cultural borough of Haringey, North London, but I’m very concerned that the vast majority of those coming in to be vaccinated are white. This is not representative of the demographic of the area and it’s becoming clear that meeting BAME vaccination targets is one of the major challenges facing the vaccination programme nationally. However, I believe dentists can help.

 

Reaching BAME communities is essential

“One elderly patient even asked me if it was going to kill him.”

Tackling the spread of misinformation is essential if we are to engage BAME communities in the vaccination programme. Rumours that the vaccination causes infertility and heart problems have been spreading online. Fear and uncertainty are being driven by people forwarding messages containing conspiracy theories and misinformation on WhatsApp and social media. But some vulnerable people are even receiving these messages through their front doors.

 

One elderly patient I spoke to, who was very afraid and reluctant to receive the vaccine, even asked me if it was going to kill him. He told me about all the misinformation he’d been reading online, and I had to talk him round. Eventually he consented to the vaccine, afterwards even thanking me for “saving his life,” but this was not an isolated case. We know that Black and mixed heritage people in their 70s are far less likely to be vaccinated, according to a study run by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

 

How can we debunk conspiracy theories?

The government has been trying to tackle low vaccine take up through BAME targeted advertising. However, I believe that this might be causing more problems than it is solving. Some people’s trust in government is shaken, and this targeted advertising is leading some people to feel even more wary and suspicious. A common refrain I hear is “why are we being targeted?”

 

So, what works? I’ve found that taking the time to talk to patients about my own experience really helps. Although we only get five minutes per vaccine patient, I make sure to tell people that our team have personally administered 20,000 vaccinations without a single adverse reaction. Many find this very reassuring. But the bigger problem is reaching those who are too sceptical to even come in.

 

We are trained to speak to all BAME patients about the reluctance within their communities and implore them to ask their friends and relatives to come and be vaccinated. And as of this week, we will be going out into the community to set up vaccination stations at local churches and mosques. By addressing scepticism and mistrust with trusted figures such as religious leaders, we hope to be able to reach many more people.

 

What you can do

I encourage you to speak to your patients about the vaccine. If you’ve already been vaccinated and had a good experience, let them know. Hearing positive stories can make a big difference in tackling misinformation. Your patients likely know you better than they know their doctor, and so if you can make the time to speak about your own experience, this could make all the difference.

 

“If you’ve already been vaccinated and had a good experience, let them know.”

As Dr Russell Hearn, Lecturer in Medical Education & Deputy Director of Community Education at Kings College, states “there are some great examples of vaccine promotion from dentists, who are invariably highly trusted by their patients. And all healthcare professions being on the same page really enables the public to have the confidence to get vaccinated.”

 

Whether you’re a dentist or a dental student, you already have both the technical and communications skills to easily become a vaccinator. As a healthcare student, my training was fast-tracked. The volunteering schedule is also flexible. I sign up for shifts mostly at weekends, because as a fifth-year dental student, there are currently almost daily clinics to make up for treatment experience we missed out on throughout the year.

 

I’m very proud to be able to help make a difference in this way. If you can make the time to volunteer, please do consider becoming a vaccinator. But if not, don’t worry, you can still make a big difference by helping us to tackle the spread of misinformation and vaccine denial.

 

Mustafa Nawaz Khan

 

Mustafa Nawaz Khan
Fifth year dental student