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In the grounds of the largest Hindu temple in Europe, volunteers debunk myths and administer vaccines against the coronavirus

This public vaccination clinic is Patel’s passion project, housed in a school on the grounds of London’s Neasden Temple, the largest Hindu place of worship in Europe.

“Because I go to the temple, it has special meaning for me,” said Patel, a local health care official. “It’s about bringing the clinic into the community and serving the community to which I belong.”

The 60-year-old mother of two is from the Hindu community in the borough of Brent, north-west London. Despite being one of the UK’s worst hit areas by Covid-19, a senior Brent council official admitted in September that authorities ‘had not worked effectively’ with black, Asian and other minority groups at the start of the pandemic, adding that many local residents felt “helpless” and marginalized.

Brent had the highest age-standardized Covid-19 death rate of any local authority in England and Wales from March 1 to June 30, 2020, according to the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Widespread poverty and intergenerational housing are two factors that have contributed to the rapid spread of the virus in the community, according to the Brent Council’s Poverty Commission.

Patel says that as a frontline medical worker she has seen systemic inequalities continue to emerge as the vaccine rolls out in the UK.

“When someone is concerned, it’s really important that you speak to them in their own language because that’s their comfort zone,” Patel explained. “Especially in the older populations, so when they come here we have volunteers who are also able to translate.”

Patients arrive by appointment, and after a pump of hand sanitizer and a quick check-in, they are introduced into one of the 12 vaccination capsules erected in the school theater hall.

Some 35 volunteers, many of whom are temple members, support the lively operation, often switching between languages ​​to respond to their mostly elderly arrivals.

“It’s very empowering, especially because we give back to our local community. Not just temple members, but area members.” one of the volunteers told us, “It gives a real sense of community, trying to help others”.

Inside each capsule, there is a story – a Hindu worshiper and postman eager to be vaccinated for her daily groceries, an Iraqi woman who needs an Arabic translator to relay her medical history, an eager couple to get vaccinated so that they can visit their children in Los Angeles.

In the grounds of the largest Hindu temple in Europe, volunteers debunk myths and administer vaccines against the coronavirus
Under England’s lockdown that has lasted for months, these are rare moments of human interaction and reunion.

“It’s quite moving to see the temple and to see all of the community members here, too, from the temple,” said Ranjana Patel after being vaccinated. “When I saw Hasmita, I was very, very excited to see her!”

Socio-economic deprivation and entrenched health inequalities are partly to blame for the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minority communities, but a local government report also acknowledged critical errors in awareness and messaging at start of the pandemic.

Now that vaccinations are being rolled out at breakneck speed across the UK, studies show that minority groups have greater reluctance to vaccinate and lower trust in public institutions, a powerful combination that could cost lives. precious.

In the grounds of the largest Hindu temple in Europe, volunteers debunk myths and administer vaccines against the coronavirus

This is why the choice of its own land, the iconic Temple of Neasden, has deep meaning for some of London’s hard-hit Hindu families. Similar vaccination sites have appeared in mosques and other places of worship as part of the national effort to immunize the population.

“This will give the local community tremendous confidence that this vaccine is safe,” said Tarun Patel, the temple spokesperson, “because people trust the temple and I think it will go a long way in eliminating some of the ideas. false. about the virus and the vaccine itself. “

The temple is also running its own awareness campaign, posting daily videos in English and Gujarati to explain the latest government guidelines and demystify the misinformation circulating on social media.

Patel says these videos have had an impact on those who may have been hesitant to get vaccinated.

“Because religious leaders are explaining the vaccination, I think the community feels more comforted,” she said.

Local champions like Patel have stepped in to fight for themselves, where other public leaders appear to have let minority communities down.

By giving his community the chance to locally lead the most important health project of our time and improve Britain’s largest immunization program in history, Patel hopes to eliminate structural inequalities.

“I’m very proud of this clinic and not just because it’s such a successful clinic, but also because we’re right across from the temple,” Patel said.

“Every day when I enter, I can see the temple and I can feel content to be a part of my community and to serve the community.

Nada Bashir and Li-Lian Ahlskog Hou contributed reporting.

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