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Conversations about science in the black Christian Community: Covid-19 & Covid-19 vaccines
This is a guest post from Adeyinka Oshin.
Earlier this year I did a work placement with ECLAS during my studies for an MA in Science Communication at the University of Kent, Canterbury, conducting a research study on “Exploring attitudes towards science in the black Christian community”. The overall aim of the study was to assess the attitudes towards science and the extent to which people’s social and faith contexts influence the way they think and feel about science. Understanding how attitudes towards science influence behaviour and lifestyle choices is vital to facilitate public engagement with science initiatives and to rebuild trust in science.
I used a mixed model research survey design to collect data using an online survey platform. Participants were required to be adult Christians and identify as belonging to a black ethnic group. A total of 89 participants attempted the survey.
Conversations about science and science-related issues
Eighty-four per cent of respondents had had a conversation about science or science-related issues in the last year, including online and social media conversations.
The various topics they discussed include climate change (28%), vaccinations (53%), technology (36%), Covid-19 (55%) and healthy eating & lifestyle (30%).Because the research study was carried out during the pandemic, it is understandable that Covid-19 (55%) and vaccinations (53%) account for the largest share.
Conversations about Covid-19
The question, “Is Covid-19 a real disease?” saw 76% respond yes and 5% respond no. There were five main reasons given for these answers.
Theme 1: Reality Check
Some participants responded that Covid-19 is a real disease because they had personal knowledge of people who had experienced it.
“I have friends and colleagues who have either died or suffered and survived.”
Theme 2: Work-related
Some participants believe it to be real as they work in the health care sector.
“I work in Covid policy and implementation of guidance.”
“I am a medical practitioner and the hard evidence is all around me.”
Theme 3: Information
Some participants indicated that Covid-19 is a real disease due to the information received through government and scientific briefings.
“It has dominated the daily news items in the past 15 months”
“With the total number of death worldwide, I see it as a terrible disease”
Theme 4: Christian Teachings
Some participants applied Christian teaching on the concept of sin that results in disease and the concept of the last days when wars and pestilences were to increase in occurrence in the world.
“Sin also attracts diseases”
“It is Biblical as we are in the last days”
Theme 5: No Conviction
Some participants indicated that Covid-19 is not a serious disease as it has been portrayed.
“It’s just like a regular flu we have in winter season.”
“I think it was made up.”
Conversations about the Covid-19 Vaccine
Sixty per cent of respondents indicated that they would take the Covid-19 vaccine, while 21% responded no; this is surprising given that 80% believe that Covid-19 a real and potentially deadly disease. This confirms reports of vaccine hesitancy in the black ethnic minority group.
I identified four themes within these responses.
Theme 1: Previous knowledge of effectiveness of vaccines
Some of the participants who indicated that they would accept the Covid-19 vaccine said this was because of their personal experience of receiving vaccines for other diseases. Others saw no difference between the Covid-19 vaccine and childhood immunizations.
“Flu vaccine has prevented the spread of flu for many years.”
“If my children can take BCG immunization and regular immunization, no need for me to stop myself.”
Theme 2: Vaccine will give personal protection
Some participants indicated that they would accept the Covid-19 vaccine for personal protection against the disease and to develop herd immunity in the population. Some participants had already received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
“I have taken the first dose already.”
“Vaccine is the only way to safely build herd immunity”
Theme 3: Information
Some participants indicated that they would accept the Covid-19 vaccine because of the information and advice received through the scientists and medical professionals. They believed the advice given by the scientists and medical professionals to be credible.
Theme 4: Concerns/ No Conviction/Mistrust
Some participants indicated that they would not accept the Covid-19 vaccine because of a combination of factors including lack of conviction and concerns about the rapid rate of development of the vaccine. They were of the view that the research that went into the development of the vaccine was inadequate, or were concerned about side effects.
“I would like to know the long-term effects which even scientists don’t know yet”
“Yet to be convinced of Covid19, then development of Covid19 vaccines just too suddenly to me.”
Covid-19 as a form of judgement from God
The next question asked whether participants agreed or disagreed that “Covid-19 is a form of judgement from God”. Thirty-five per cent disagreed, 12% agreed, and 19% neither agreed nor disagreed.
Table 1: Extent to which you agree or disagree – ‘Covid-19 is a form of judgment from God’
||Neither agree nor disagree
During the Covid-19 pandemic there were different responses from churches. In addition to providing spiritual care and support, some churches organised seminars and talks (e.g. Does God want me to take the Covid-19 vaccine) with medical professionals and scientists to discuss the scientific information underlying the disease and debunk myths and conspiracy theories surrounding the Covid-19 vaccines. Other churches were involved in promoting conspiracy theories about the origin and cause of the disease. The role of the church leader in communicating scientific information to members of the congregation is critical.
The findings from this research study indicate that members of the black Christian community are interested in discussing and knowing more about science. There is an opportunity, and indeed an urgent need, to develop public engagement with science initiatives focussing on health issues, diseases, treatments, and vaccinations. This will help to address issues of historical mistrust, rebuild confidence in science and health institutions, and prepare members of the black Christian community – and indeed the wider black ethnic community – for any future public health emergency.
Adeyinka Oshin is a Science Communicator and serves as Pastor, RCCG, Royal City, Sevenoaks. He can be contacted via email.