Sir Lenny Henry’s open letter urges black Britons to take Covid vaccine
media captionSir Lenny Henry: “We don’t want anybody else to die”

Sir Lenny Henry has written an open letter urging black Britons to take the Covid-19 vaccine.

The comedian and actor said people should “trust the facts” and guard against misinformation.

The letter has been signed by high-profile figures such as actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, YouTube star KSI and actress Thandie Newton.

Vaccination rates among black Britons are considerably lower than among white Britons.

According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, vaccination rates for people in England identifying as having black African heritage stand at 58.8%, the lowest among all ethnic minority groups, and 68.7% within the black Caribbean community.

By contrast, for people identifying as white British, there is an estimated take-up rate of 91.3%.

Getty Images

Vaccination rates

By ethnic minority in England

  • 58.8%people identifying as black African

  • 68.7%among black Caribbeans

  • 91.3%people identifying as white

Source: ONS

The disparity exists despite a widespread study suggesting black people are twice as likely as white people to catch the coronavirus.

Asked why there was caution in the black community about having the vaccine, Sir Lenny blamed an “element of mistrust” in the system.

He said people felt “certain institutions and authorities haven’t particularly done right by the black community in the past” so asked “why should they do something for us now? Why are they doing us all a big favour?”

Sir Lenny’s letter, addressed to “mums, dads, grandparents, uncles, aunties, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, daughters, sons and cousins”, recognises these historic “legitimate worries and concerns”.

But it adds: “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.”

The appeal, which is backed by the NHS, has also been turned into a short film directed by Bafta-winning filmmaker Amma Asante.

Figure captionWarning: Third party content may contain adverts

Asante told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The most important thing for us was to put across a message that for all the divisions that exist, we deserve to be protected and our loved ones deserve to be protected. We don’t want to widen divisions and equalities that exist.”

The film will be aired on Sky, BT Sport, Viacom, Discovery, A&E and ROK and Channel 5 on Tuesday 30 March from 20:00 BST.

Sir Lenny told BBC Breakfast: “It came together really quickly – within a couple of weeks we were making the film. People were all over the place. We all managed to make this little film with Amma directing us remotely.”

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionYouTuber KSI, actress Thandie Newton and actor Chiwetel Ejiofor are among the stars to have signed the letter

He described the film, which has a personal feel with the focus on family and friends, as “very moving”.

Other signatories include author Malorie Blackman, DJ Trevor Nelson, historian David Olusoga and actors Adrian Lester, Naomi Ackie and David Harewood.

“The vaccine’s been tested for all ethnicities. It’s safe, it’s our way out of the pandemic,” Sir Lenny said. “If you’re in any way hesitant, talk to a medical professional… trust the experts, don’t trust your mate down the pub or conspiracies online. This is serious now. Don’t be misinformed.

“Perhaps after there’ll be an opportunity to rebuild our trust in authority and institutions but for now… take the jab.”

media captionBBC Reality Check debunks five false vaccine claims

The comedian also spoke about his own experience of getting the jab.

“I did find it emotional,” he said. “Because of lockdown, I’ve not been out very often, I talked to this poor doctor there [for ages] – they were like, ‘The jab happened 10 minutes ago, can you leave now!'”

He added: “The staff are so brilliant, they explain things, they want you to feel comfortable, they’re really good people. Any trepidation is misinformed. It’s over so quickly, it doesn’t hurt, it’s a cool thing to do.”

The Comic Relief co-founder also used the launch of the letter to address government intervention.

Asked if the UK government had done enough to build up the trust of the black community, Sir Lenny told the Press Association: “They waited and that’s why we’re in this terrible situation, so it’s a bit ironic to accuse the black community of hesitating.

“There are mitigating circumstances to the trust and the lack of take-up and those things need to be mended before people can move forward, and we’re doing our bit to do that and perhaps the government needs to do the same too.

“My thing is, we’re all in this together. Black, white, Asian, whatever, we’re all in it together. We all want our families and our loved ones to survive.”

Fake news about the vaccine, particularly in the South Asian community, has led to concerns about uptake.

Follow us on Facebook or on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts. If you have a story suggestion email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *