President Joe Biden has announced an new ambitious plan to get at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of 70% of Americans. And LGBTQ people need to do their part, the administration is stressing.
Dr. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), spoke with LGBTQ Nation about the administration’s “National Month of Action” and how queer folks can help.
Dr. Levine, a transgender woman, served as surgeon general of the state of Pennsylvania before being tapped by Biden when he needed the best healthcare experts to fight the coronavirus. While former president Donald Trump’s lackadaisical and nonsensical efforts to stave off the ever-rising infection and death rates proved ineffective, Biden has made the pandemic a priority for his administration.
LGBTQ people have a role to play in making sure the virus is brought under control and Levine stressed that the president wanted to engage the community. One of the most effective routes to overcoming vaccine hesitancy is simply talking to them, providing some encouragement, and making it easy for them to access the vaccine.
The administration is partnering with national organizations, local government leaders, community centers, businesses, media organizations, employers, social media influencers, celebrities, and colleges to get Americans jabbed, Levine said, nothing health officials wanted to “stress the safety of the vaccines, the effectiveness of the vaccines, and how important the vaccines are in general but specifically important to our community.”
“We want to work local,” she said, “making sure our community has access to the vaccine and they understand how important this is.”
LGBTQ centers are hosting vaccine clinics and helping to gather the information that can be used to eradicate the virus and better treat the community.
While evidence shows that LGBTQ people are less likely to be vaccine-hesitant than the wider population, Levine admits that the administration doesn’t know how many community members have gotten the shot. Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data is not being collected in many places.
“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.”
Levine noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and HHS have encouraged states to gather the information to better inform researchers and advocates.
“As you know,” she said, “the previous administration had kind of expunged the collection of SOGI data from every database that you could mention, including the Census. We will be working to put all that data back.”
“One of the absolute important issues is going to be the collection of data about our community. If you don’t count it, then in some ways it doesn’t exist as you start to look at it from a policy perspective. If you don’t have data it’s hard to make policy and it’s almost impossible to dedicate money. So we absolutely need that data in terms of COVID but also other public health issues.”
Levine stressed that the most important thing an LGBTQ person could do was to get vaccinated themselves.
“It is so important that everyone in the United States 12 and over gets the vaccine,” she said, noting that there are three different vaccine options and all are widely available. She had the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine “and I feel very very confident in that vaccination.”
“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, 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 center within five miles of where they live.”
“Whether that is their doctor’s office or a mass vaccination clinic, whether that’s a federally qualified health center or LGBTQ health center or other community vaccination place,” Levine added. “It’s available at chain and local pharmacies. It’s easily accessible to people in general and members of our community.”
Albertson’s, CVS, Rite-Aid, and Walgreens have all announced their pharmacies will stay open late on Fridays to ensure that those with less flexible work hours have the opportunity to get vaccinated at times convenient to them.
Four of the nation’s largest child care providers will offer free child care to all parents and caregivers getting vaccinated or recovering from vaccination from now until July 4th.
“We want to make sure that everyone has access and they understand the safety and effectiveness of which I feel extremely confident and how important it is right now to get the vaccinations,” Levine told LGBTQ Nation.
Sixty-three percent of adult Americans have had at least one shot of the vaccine since Biden took office, including 73% of Americans age 40 and over. COVID-19 cases and deaths have plummeted as a result – cases are down over 90% and deaths are down over 85% since January 20th.