Trailblazer Dr Rachel Levine has a message for ‘vaccine-hesitant’ queer people

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Dr Rachel Levine delivers opening remarks as she assumes her role as the 17th assistant secretary for health (YouTube/US Dept of Health & Human Services)

Dr Rachel Levine has urged all vaccine-hesitant queer people to do their part in getting COVID under control: get the shot.

As America’s vaccine rollout continues apace, the leading trans health official is trying to mobilise the more reluctant among the LGBT+ community to get involved.

In an interview with LGBTQ Nation, she stressed the safety and importance of the vaccines for all groups, “but specifically important to our community”.

“We want to work local,” Dr Levine said, “making sure our community has access to the vaccine and they understand how important this is.”

She’s well aware of the healthcare barriers for the LGBT+ community, and of the mistrust many queer people feel due to experiences of injustice or discrimination in medical settings.

“There are members of our community that might be vaccine-hesitant because of the way that they have been treated by the medical establishment, the way they have been treated by the federal government and many state governments,” she said.

“But this is something members of our community can take personal action about. The vaccines are very abundant now in the United States now. They should be able to find a vaccine centre within five miles of where they live.”

While evidence shows that LGBT+ people are less likely to be vaccine-hesitant than the wider population, Levine admits the government doesn’t have a clear picture on this.

That’s because sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data is not being collected in many places, meaning it’s hard to be sure what the uptake is like in the LGBT+ community.

“We are trying,” Levine said. “There are a number of states that are working to collect SOGI data in terms of testing, in terms of the test results and the vaccine results. Pennsylvania, where I was Secretary of Health, was the first state to mandate that.

“I can’t tell you that the uptake was so great. You know, we’re struggling to get all sorts of data about the pandemic. We still struggle to get racial and ethnic data about it.”

Part of that is down to the damage of the Trump administration, which “expunged the collection of SOGI data from every database that you could mention, including the Census,” she said.

In this absence of this crucial information, it’s up to LGBT+ people to ensure their community isn’t passed over.

The vaccine is freely available in a range of locations, “whether that is their doctor’s office or a mass vaccination clinic, whether that’s a federally qualified health centre or LGBTQ health centre or other community vaccination place,” Dr Rachel Levine added.

“It’s available at chain and local pharmacies. It’s easily accessible to people in general and members of our community.”

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