Jewish family foundation gets £1m from government to promote vaccine take-up

Maurice Ostro says he wants to reach religious groups which are 'more vulnerable to misinformation'


The government has turned to an interfaith organisation sponsored by a Jewish family charity to help improve Covid-19 awareness and promote vaccine take-up among minority communities.

Strengthening Faith Institutions, which is supported by the Ostro Fayre Share Foundation, received a grant of £1.15 million from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Most of the £23.75 million allocated to the programme has gone to local councils.

SFI has been a trusted partner of the ministry for five years, helping more than 800 religious groups with issues such as safeguarding or dealing with the Charity Commission.

It works mostly with small groups, some of which the foundation’s founder Maurice Ostro describes as “micro-communities, which may consist of a mosque in a house”.

Last month, advisers from the Sage committee (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) expressed concern about vaccine scepticism among the UK’s black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.

Some of the more insular religious groups were “more vulnerable to misinformation” because they read their own press and might not watch TV or listen to radio in the same way as others in wider secular society, Mr Ostro said.

So SFI will need to work out how best to get the government’s messages across.

“We are going to hire a hundred community champions around the country,” he pledged.

They will be the primary points of contact, able to advise, for example, whether a specific leafletting campaign might be necessary to reach a particular group.

He believed that among those currently eligible for vaccines, such as carers or the over-70s, there was wide acceptance of the need. But there “may be a bigger concern as you go down the age group”.

SFI will “look at whatever options there are to make the vaccination programme more effective, to be better accepted”. Community champions may well include some within Charedi areas. There was “definitely a need for better communication” of the importance of protective measures against the virus in parts of the strictly Orthodox community.

Mr Ostro does not think Charedim have been “disbelieving of the Covid crisis” or “that they don’t care”. It might be simply that secular society places a higher trust in science than “those in the ultra-0rthodox communities, who I wouldn’t say ignore science — not at all. But it doesn’t take the same premier position that it might in other people’s outlook and hence doesn’t have quite the impact.”

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