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Congratulations are in order for Dr Nikita Ved, who has been appointed a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Nikita Ved MBE PhD FRSA is recognised for her vaccine outreach work as part of The 1928 Institute, an official Oxford spin out which she co-founded, the only think tank researching and representing Indians in the UK. The Institute was established in October 2020 as a continuation of the original India League (est. 1928). The not-for-profit is designed to research and represent British Indians, provide analysis on the emerging events in the Indian Sub-continent and within its diaspora, and be a platform for dialogue for the diaspora with the aim of disrupting ‘echo-chambers’.

Dr Ved said: “I’m thrilled and humbled to receive this significant recognition for my academic and voluntary work. Although myself and others have reservations on the phrase ‘member of the British Empire’, I am accepting this award in the spirit of being acknowledged, particularly at my age as I feel many young people are overlooked for their hard work.”

The first action of the 1928 Institute was to set up the first ever British Indian Census. To consolidate the data, Dr Ved and colleagues set up focus groups, where they learned a great deal about their surveyees’ views around the COVID-19 vaccine, which had just started being rolled out in November 2020. There was a great deal of evidence that British Indians were hesitant to take the vaccine, so the team decided to immediately run another survey. In early 2021, the 1928 Institute published a seminal COVID-19 report on vaccine uptake within the Indian community that was very well-received and published in more than 30 news outlets. Critically, they found that only 56% of British Indians would be willing to take a vaccine, which was significantly lower than the national average at the time of 79%. They also found that 19% of British Indians felt that other people should have priority in receiving a vaccine, specifically those who are vulnerable and those in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, and 75% face barriers in accessing mental healthcare.

Furthermore, the report showed that women are significantly less likely (52%) than men (63%) to take a vaccine. Dr Ved said: “We found one of the main reasons for vaccine hesitancy, particularly for women, was the fact there was lots of misinformation that the vaccine caused infertility, which is very much stigmatised among minority communities. At the time I was working for Duncan Sparrow researching pregnancy complications, and as a South Asian woman scientist in Oxford at childbearing age, I was in a good position to do some myth busting.”

Armed with the data, Dr Ved and colleagues went virtually into the British Indian community in collaboration with Hindu Council UK, senior NHS officials, Civil Servants, community leaders, and No.10. Dr Ved was invited to take part on a number of online panels with healthcare experts and Parliamentarians, including the then Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi MP and Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England and NHS Improvement Dr Nikki Kanani, to encourage vaccine uptake within BME communities and dispel common myths surrounding the vaccine. Dr Ved also appeared in her home town of the London Borough of Hackney, on radio and worked with social media influencers to produce content that would get people talking about the vaccine. Dr Ved said: “Often South Asian communities live in multigenerational homes, so I wanted encourage discussion within families, between grandparents and grandchildren. It’s about arming them with the best possible information.” 

Hindu Council UK conducted an online poll in which 200 people who considered themselves vaccine sceptic attendance. The results showed 150 would now consider taking the vaccine as a result of the outreach in their communities.

In March 2022, the 1928 Institute became an official Oxford spin out. Alongside her outreach work, Dr Ved has been working in DPAG as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow studying how to improve function in the injured adult heart in Professor Paul Riley’s group, following four years in Associate Professor Duncan Sparrow’s Lab shedding light on the original of congenital birth defects. She has recently moved into an industry position, as Data and Publications lead for Sanofi Pharmaceuticals. She remains an academic visitor at DPAG.

Dr Ved joins four other Oxford academics, including the Vice Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson, in the 2022 Queen's Birthday Honours. Read more on the University of Oxford website.