As a lifelong organizer and community advocate, I know how easy it is to ignore issues that aren’t in the news 24/7. There’s so much happening in the world right now — reading the latest headlines can quickly become overwhelming. Things that aren’t pushed out in news alerts or our social media feeds are understandably relegated to the sidelines, making it that much harder to share valuable information with the people who need it most. After many years, COVID-19 is no longer the top story on the evening news, or even regularly mentioned, but it’s an issue we need to make sure isn’t sidelined, especially for the LGBTQ+ community.
When the pandemic was at the forefront of our minds, so many of us took action. There was a time when people were stepping up to protect themselves and their communities. In fact, the LGBTQ+ community’s vaccination and booster rates were among the highest in the nation when vaccines first became available.
Even though COVID-related hospitalizations have more than doubled since this past July, with tens of thousands of COVID-19-associated hospitalizations reported every week, less than 20 percent of adults in the U.S. have received their updated vaccine since September. And, a recent study published in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine found that over half the people that had COVID continue to have lingering symptoms three years later. The World Health Organization warned us that COVID would never be fully eradicated, and they were right.
As we jump into the holidays and the thick of winter, with visits to see family and friends, we should consider their health, and ours, one of the best gifts we can give. This means doing our part and getting the updated COVID-19 booster as part of our seasonal vaccines and wellness appointments.
Despite the data and guidance from the CDC, there are multiple factors at play right now that may indirectly discourage the updated vaccine — whether that’s politics, wanting to “move on,” or just lack of information. On the political end, the LGBTQ+ community is more than familiar with how basic health education can be twisted and warped by extremists. Information about COVID and the updated vaccines can be unclear and not easily available unless you search for it. Understandably, most Americans have moved on from the pandemic — so we need to make sure people have the information they need to stay safe and healthy.
For starters, as of September 2023, updated 2023-2024 versions of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Novavax vaccines are available, FDA approved, and CDC-recommended to everyone over the age of six months. These updated vaccines are available at no cost, even if you do not have health insurance, and it can be scheduled at the same time as your flu shot. Vaccine protection for COVID-19 fades overtime, and the current updated vaccines better target many of the COVID-19 variants and strains currently circulating. So, getting an updated shot is important even if you have already been vaccinated before, similar to the annual flu shot.
LGBTQ+ people are particularly impacted by COVID-19, and we don’t want to exacerbate our risk by skipping our yearly vaccination. Half of our community already report having an ongoing health condition that requires regular monitoring, medical care, or medication. We also, unfortunately, have higher rates of tobacco usage and are more likely to live with chronic diseases like HIV and asthma — increasing the risk of severe illness from COVID. On top of these issues, we’re more likely to lack health coverage or the resources to see a doctor, both of which are critical in the case of a severe infection. This is an instance where we can prevent a health crisis from happening by scheduling our updated COVID shot.
Don’t start the new year with COVID, get your updated shot and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Speak to your health care provider, or find a vaccine provider at Vaccines.gov, and get vaccinated!
Kelley Robinson is the president of the Human Rights Campaign.