June 12, 2021

COVID-19 vaccines and the LGBTQ+ community – Harvard Health Blog

I have a confession: in late 2020, when the first COVID-19 vaccines were approved by the FDA, I was hesitant to get one myself. Despite working in public health and believing strongly in vaccines to keep our community healthy, I was anxious about putting something in my body that seemed so new. I thought: “What if the vaccine is dangerous?” “What about long-term side effects?”

I am part of the LGBTQ+ community. Our history may help explain why I hesitated.

Are LGBTQ+ people more hesitant to get the vaccine?

In March a New York Times article reported that LGBTQ+ people are more hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. A research study from the Human Rights Campaign reported mixed findings: while LGBTQ+ people overall are more likely to get vaccinated, certain subgroups, such as LGBTQ+ people of color and bisexual women, are less likely to get vaccinated.

LGBTQ+ people have good reason to be hesitant about vaccines. Historically, this population has experienced — and continues to experience — discrimination in multiple settings, including in healthcare. At the same time, this population is more vulnerable to COVID-19 (see this study and an earlier blog post I wrote). LGBTQ+ people who are also people of color may be even more hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine, because of trauma and oppressions based on multiple intersecting marginalized identities that set the stage for mistrust in healthcare and medical research. We can include racism, transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia among such oppressions.

Weighing the risks and benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine

When I was trying to decide whether to get the vaccine, I began reading about the vaccine from trusted sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I also talked to people I know and trust, like close friends, family members, and physician colleagues. I asked them: “Will you get the vaccine when it’s offered to you?” All of them gave me a resounding “yes!” Most shared this rationale: while we still don’t know about long-term side effects, this vaccine is similar to other vaccines that have been around for a while, and the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the risks of getting seriously ill or even dying from COVID-19.

When the vaccine was offered to me earlier this year, I booked my appointment immediately, without hesitation, and I haven’t looked back. As soon as I got the first shot, and certainly when I was fully vaccinated two weeks after my second shot, I felt a profound sense of relief. I also felt empowered about taking an important step toward keeping myself, my family, and my community safe from COVID-19. I now feel safer and freer in my daily life. I go into stores (wearing a mask) without feeling anxious, and I have been able to visit in-person with other fully vaccinated people, like my mom, without masks.

If you are struggling to decide whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine, this decision-making grid may be helpful (note: auto-download). The grid walks you through the benefits and short-term and long-term risks of not getting the vaccine compared to getting the currently available vaccines.

Why the vaccine is critical for LGBTQ+ communities

Numerous “pandemics” have already wiped out large numbers of the LGBTQ+ community: HIV/AIDS, violence, suicide. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has already disproportionately harmed LGBTQ+ people (see this study and this report). LGBTQ+ seniors and people of color are at greatest risk for serious, possibly life-threatening illness from COVID-19. If each of us takes steps to get vaccinated, we can prevent more deaths and negative health outcomes in our communities.

How can you empower yourself to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

  • Educate yourself on what COVID-19 vaccines are, how they work, and why they are safe.
  • Talk to trusted experts and people in your life about your fears.
  • At this time, everyone in the US who is age 16 or older is eligible for the vaccine, so you can make an appointment where you live to get vaccinated.

Additional resources