Rory Finn talks to Dr Sam Hall, a Brighton & Hove GP, for some clarification around the Covid-19 vaccines
When news first came out that a vaccine had been approved, I initially greeted it with scepticism. Not because I am an anti-vaxxer or believe that 5G has been the cause of the pandemic, but because throughout medical history, minority groups have been sidelined in research, often an afterthought or not included at all. Some have been subjected to unethical and immoral clinical trials – this has been especially prevalent with people of colour. Given the speed at which the vaccines have been developed, why should we so trust them, as queer people, especially for those of us who wear multiple minority identities or live with long-term health conditions?
I asked trusted GP and trans man Dr Sam Hall for his reflections on the state of play.
He pointed out we’ve seen examples of groups being left out of Covid research. There has been a failure to coherently include trans people in the data, and without including them explicitly no one will spot if there’s a difference. Research currently shows that men in the older cohort are more likely to die from Covid than women. Post-menopausal women are at a lower risk. There is no way of knowing how the length of transition will impact on an individual’s risk. Anyone who is pregnant will not be offered the vaccine as there is no data to show whether there is any impact on the pregnancy.
The good news is that people living with HIV have been included in the trials.
When it comes to the vaccine, the dose doesn’t vary according to age or any other demographic factor. This is reassuring to me, that we will all get the same medicine, regardless of who we are, our age, our ethnicity or gender.
“Why should we so trust [vaccines], as queer people, especially for those of us who wear multiple minority identities or live with long-term health conditions?”
Even though the health risks are unmeasured with trans people, there isn’t any legitimate reason why the vaccine might not work. Trust is a major issue here. The uptake among people of colour is low and isn’t easily addressed as the weight of colonialism and racism forms a significant barrier to trusting the medical establishment.
And on top of all this, we don’t have enough data to know about side effects properly. With so many unknowns, why should we take it? Sam was almost evangelical in his view about the good of the masses versus the good of the individual. A real desire for the love of humanity. “Make a choice to sacrifice yourself for the good of people who will die of this otherwise, whether you know them or not”.
Inequality is a huge risk for coronavirus to kill you. We don’t have the stats on LGBTQ+ people yet, but if you were to pull the data apart you might find LGBTQ+ people are more likely to die. We know that BAME groups are significantly impacted by it and how systemic inequality has contributed to that. We need to save our community from decimation.
The vaccine is a good thing but it’s not the way out. It will dampen the impact of the pandemic, but ultimately if we want this to end we must all continue to dig in and keep going with the measures that are designed to slow the pace of transmission. We’re not much more evolved than the last time a pandemic ripped across the world.
Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) with the British HIV Associate (BHIVA) updated its guidance for people living with HIV after it emerged that “the patient information leaflet for the Pfizer vaccine uses HIV as a specific example of a weakened immune system, which is listed under the warnings and precautions of taking the vaccine. The leaflet advises those affected to contact their doctor, nurse or pharmacist before vaccination”. BHIVA has challenged this reference with Pfizer.
Writing on a Facebook post from January 13, THT says the advice is not based on safety concerns. “There is no current evidence suggesting that people living with HIV experience more side effects from the vaccines. This guidance exists as there is limited research information about people with immune deficiency/or HIV taking the vaccine.
“Covid-19 vaccines are expected to be protective in people with HIV and we strongly recommend anyone who is offered the vaccine to accept it. Everyone with HIV is automatically in priority group six so you will get the vaccine earlier than many people. If your clinic thinks you are at higher risk you can be put into priority group four and get the vaccine sooner.”
For more info, contact THT Direct on 0808 802 1221.
How will people know when they will receive the jab?
You’ll get a phone call from your GP. People will get it when it is their turn. Make sure you are registered with a GP. If you are not, you may miss out.
I’ve already had Covid – do I need the vaccine?
If you’ve already had Covid, you don’t have ongoing antibodies. It’s not like chicken pox or measles. The antibodies die off too quickly. There is nothing to stop you getting it again.
How long will the vaccine last for?
We don’t know how effective the vaccine is long term. It will not end the pandemic. The virus is mutating. Vaccines will have to change every season and you will probably have to take the vaccine more than once.
Join Scene magazine on the 26th March for our free LGBTQ Vaccine Q&A webinar when you have an opportunity to ask the Director of Public Health and two health professionals involved with the vaccine rollout any questions you might have. Use this link to join in on Friday 26th. Pop the date in your diary!