Juan Carlos Vega, Citizens Alliance Pro LGBTTA Health of Puerto Rico & LGBT HealthLink: the Network for Health Equity
Are LGBTT communities getting vaccinated against influenza? If you do a search on Google for “LGBT” and “vaccination”, most results refer to current important efforts towards Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination. A few influenza vaccination campaigns targeting LGBTT communities appear scattered in the last two decades. A fabulous one occurred in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The health events section in the Wisconsin GLBT History Project website reports that, “Flu Vaccination shots began to be offered annually to members of the LGBT community in approximately 1990, by the Gay and Lesbian Nurses Association. The effort was begun to target the especially at-risk population of the gay and lesbian community after the AIDS outbreak… For its first 16 years the vaccinations were given in the upstairs at the M&M Club, thanks to Bob Schmidt’s generosity. When the M&M Club closed early in 2006, the Nurses Association began the search for a new location for its 17th year.”
Of all the health problems LGBTT communities, why do we need to worry about influenza? Don’t we have more pressing matters like HIV increase, high smoking prevalence, and rejection to proper services due to stigma and discrimination, etcetera, etcetera? My knowledge on influenza and vaccination is limited but I compare the facts presented during the 3rd LGBTT Health Summit of Puerto Rico on April 4, 2014. According to the most recent statistics from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), some of the most significant risk factors and health conditions prevalent among LGBTT communities in Puerto Rico are obesity and overweight (53.5%), tobacco use (23.8%), asthma (22.2%), and diabetes (13.1%). Later, in May 2014, the current Puerto Rico Secretary of Health, in alert, due to the increase on reported influenza cases, continued to encourage individuals with chronic diseases like obesity, asthma, and diabetes to get vaccinated. The high prevalence of HIV reported cases among LGBTT communities in Puerto Rico are certainly vulnerable as well to the flu.
It is a no brainer that LGBTT communities are at high risk and should get vaccinated. But then again, are LGBTT communities getting vaccinated? Are there any influenza vaccination efforts in our communities like the one by the Gay and Lesbian Nurses Association in Milwaukee in the 90’s happening today or in summer pride events? The CDC-funded National Influenza Vaccination Disparities Partnership reports that large metropolitan areas like Chicago, Latino-based Casa Ruby in Washington, DC, and the San Francisco LGBT Community Center are offering vaccination clinics and prevention services to LGBTT communities. Anybody else? Anyone has strategies and recommendations to implement influenza vaccination programs and services among LGBTT communities?