Extending a hand to LGBTQ community, Pa. seeks to dispel COVID vaccine myths, misinformation

By: - June 13, 2021 7:31 am

JCAA resident Mary Groce receives her first Covid-19 vaccine dose (Philadelphia Gay News photo)

In an effort to reach out to marginalized communities about the COVID-19 vaccine, the Wolf administration is hosting a series of panel discussions to educate community members and dispel myths and misinformation regarding the vaccine.

The fourth panel of the series, hosted by the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, and dubbed “Vax Facts: Afternoon Tea on LGBTQ Health,” was held last Thursday, and dealt with vaccine safety for LGBTQ communities. 

“As members of a community that’s experienced the worst of the HIV epidemic in the late 80s, LGBTQ+ people have taken the COVID-19 pandemic seriously,” Rafael Alvarez Febo, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, and the panel’s moderator, said. “Ensuring that our community is well-informed about the COVID-19 vaccines allows people to make the best decisions for their health.”

“That trauma really did get dredged up,” Alvarez Febo said about similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and the HIV epidemic. 

Pennsylvania’s Acting Physician General, Dr. Denise Johnson discussed vaccine side effects, and the report of blood clots with the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine. 

Johnson confirmed that the blood clot side effect is “extremely rare,” affecting about 20 of the 170 million people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

As Pennsylvania’s top physician, Johnson said the state Department of Health worked with vaccine providers to ensure those who could be at high risk for blood clots, such as those with HIV and low blood platelet counts, were given a different vaccine. 

“We wanted to make sure providers knew how to treat people,” Johnson said. 

Sarah Rosso, executive director of the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation, a nonprofit LGBTQ health organization in Pittsburgh, highlighted LGBTQ specific concerns, such as potential interactions between PrEP, an HIV prevention medicine, and the COVID-19 vaccines. 

“The vaccine will work just as well if you’re on PrEP,” Rosso said, adding that there are no reported interactions between PrEP and COVID-19 vaccines. 

“LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians need accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines and how they might impact them,” Rosso said. “This is especially important when you consider barriers to care and lack of affirming care many LGBTQ+ folks experience across the commonwealth.“

Rosso noted more specific concerns should be directed to healthcare providers. 

Other panelists highlighted an ongoing issue involving the LGBTQ community and COVID-19 vaccines: the lack of data. 

Dr. Eloho Ufomata, an assistant professor of Medicine and an Advisory Dean at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine, discussed the disproportionate effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on vulnerable populations. 

“Unfortunately, we do not have robust data collection for LGBTQ folk,” Ufomata said. “We do know that historically, this population has faced vulnerability with access to healthcare. That’s why I think efforts like this are so important, so that folks can have high quality information, specific to the needs of LGBTQ people, so that each person can make the best decisions regarding vaccination.”

The Capital-Star reported in May that the lack of data on LGBTQ individuals and vaccinations led researchers and advocates to conduct their own data to better understand how the community was fairing during the pandemic in regards to public health orders and vaccinations.

In the absence of state and federal demographic data, Pa.’s LGBTQ community conducts its own research

The next Vax Facts panel will be held on Thursday, June 17 at 12 p.m. It will focus on vaccine concerns in the Black community.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.