COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy: interview with Michal Siewniak

Holidays, COVID-19 and vaccine hesitancy within Eastern European communities.

Michal Siewniak a local Hatfield resident

Knowing how important it is to maximise vaccine uptake in our communities, we sought to understand the reasons behind vaccine hesitancy in these communities in Hertfordshire and asked Michal Siewniak, a local resident from the Polish community, to share his thoughts. However, it has quickly become apparent that there is no simple answer to this. 

"If someone told me a few years ago that any other issue will divide our communities as much as Brexit did after the EU referendum, I would not have believed it," says Michal.

What has influenced your daily life the most?

This year, I was lucky enough to travel over the summer holidays. A lot of people like me, who live abroad, are often left with very little choice. Covid-19 restrictions, stress around planning and cost of tests is putting many people off, however there are not many alternatives if we want to see our loved ones.

Did you manage to leave the Covid-19 reality behind?

No, it was not possible. The pandemic was a central part of many of my conversations in Poland and Croatia. Although most of my friends had at least one dose of the vaccine, I was looking at reasons for 'vaccine hesitancy' within the Polish and other ethnic minority communities.

For instance, the most recent data from Hertfordshire County Council shows that whilst 90% of white British residents have had one dose of the vaccine, this drops to 69% for other white populations. There is still some work that needs to be done to address the issue of lower levels of vaccine uptake in these communities.

Why are some members of the public hesitant?

It is clear that there is not one but many reasons why some people, also from my community, are hesitant towards the vaccination programme. Social media plays a big part in shaping views on whether to have the vaccine or not. Targeted online campaigns, believing only in one source of information, being fed up with listening to "experts" often means that it is not easy to change people's "fixed mind-sets". For those living in the UK, occasional language barriers could be some of the motives of vaccine resistance.

Would increasing accessibility help?

It would most certainly would, but it would not be enough. Social, cultural and religious factors often affect why individuals from so-called 'hard to reach groups' are reluctant to get vaccinated. In my experience, our church leaders encourage people to get the vaccine. However, there are some isolated voices who question whether the vaccine is safe and properly tested - which, of course, we know it is.

What other beliefs have you come across?

There are still some people who believe that because they are healthy and fit, they will not catch Covid-19. This often changes if a friend or relative becomes ill.

Many of us, particularly people who work with Covid-19 patients and in a health-related environment, are exposed to the tragedy and suffering of families, which clearly shows the impact of the virus. This can't be ignored. 

Michal added with deep conviction that:

Polish people are often proud individuals. After years of oppressions, they cherish their liberties and many people feel that, in particular, Covid-19 restrictions limit their freedoms. In my view, maybe because of the historical reasons, mistrust of public institutions is still ingrained in the Polish way of thinking.

Michal also reflects on how the pandemic has drastically changed their lives. Whether it is work, travelling, or our social norms; things feel and look different. However, "our perspective" on vaccination depends on "where we sit," he says."It is maybe my selfish hope that our lives can return to some sort of modified normality, however, I accept that the 'new norm' might have to look a bit different." 

If you are unsure about getting vaccinated, please speak to one or more health professional you trust. You can also find information on reliable websites