Metro Weekly

LGBTQ Affairs Office to hold virtual town hall on COVID vaccinations

Community conversation seeks to dispel misinformation, and provide testimonials from local leaders who have been vaccinated.

dc, lgbtq, covid
A patient gets a COVID-19 vaccine – Photo: Steven Cornfield, via Unsplash.

The D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs will host a virtual tele-town hall on COVID vaccinations and boosters on Monday, Feb. 7.

The Office of LGBTQ Affairs regularly holds various community outreach events, including monthly meet-and-greets, quarterly nightlife socials with people in D.C. nightlife and the D.C. LGBTQ veterans community, and community conversations addressing issues of importance to the LGBTQ community. Due to ongoing concerns with the now two-year-long pandemic, the mayor’s office felt it was necessary to address vaccine hesitancy among marginalized populations.

Monday’s town hall will feature health experts like Dr. Stephen Abbott, an infectious disease physician from Whitman-Walker Health, and Patrick Ashley, the senior deputy director of the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Administration (HEPRA) at DC Health, to provide insight on the epidemic from a medical point of view.

“We’ll be talking about why vaccines are important, why boosters are important, specifically as it relates to the omicron variant, and then looking at the epidemic from the LGBTQ side: Are vaccines she with hormone replacement therapy or with PrEP or PEP? Is COVID-19 represented differently with a person with HIV or other comorbidities?” says Japer Bowles, the director of the Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

Bowles also hopes that having the medical experts speak at the town hall can begin the conversation about incorporating boosters into people’s regular health check-ups, much in the same way that annual flu vaccinations are.

While recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that LGBTQ people report higher rates of vaccination than their heterosexual counterparts, the town hall is intended to address community concerns about the omicron variant, COVID vaccines, their side effects, and the importance of boosters. Additionally, Bowles says, the town hall will provide an opportunity to dispel misinformation that may be contributing to vaccine hesitancy, especially among pockets of the community that have been historically marginalized or have faced barriers in accessing quality health care, such as Black men who have sex with men and transgender individuals.

“Several factors play a role in vaccine resistance. The most common is concerns over vaccine safety, vaccine efficiency, especially those who have had really bad experiences with health care providers in general,” Bowles says. “So what we’re trying to do with the booster campaign is essentially calm those fears. We’re hoping to build trust, we’re looking to dismantle the systemic oppression and discrimination. And of course, our community still panders in conspiracy theories as well. So we’re making sure we can combat those narratives, and in addition to providing the data and health expertise, have asked leaders from the community — from the Center for Black Equity, from Team DC, FLUX DC, Capital Pride Alliance, Impulse Group DC — to talk about why getting vaccinated or getting the booster is so important.

“Studies show that the most impactful people in helping folks get vaccinated and posted are those trusted neighbors, trusted leaders. So we have identified those leaders who can tell their personal stories,” he adds. “And we’ll be doing a social media campaign highlighting those individuals and stories.”

Ensuring higher vaccination rates has an additional benefit, because it ensures that greater numbers of people will be able to provide proof of vaccination — as currently mandated by an executive order by Mayor Muriel Bowser — to enter various venues where large numbers of people are congregating. By resuming their social lives, and patronizing local businesses, people can in turn spend money that goes back into the local economy, which took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the upcoming town hall, the Office of LGBTQ Affairs, in conjunction with DC Health and community partners, will be hosting a number of vaccine and booster exchanges, held at “safe spaces” in the community. The first will be on Feb. 9, at 5 p.m. at the LGBTQ bar Kiki, followed by another on Feb. 10 from 1-3 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Southwest D.C. The office will hold two or three additional exchanges at the Wanda Alston Foundation and Metropolitan Community Church of D.C.

“We want these exchanges to be places where there are LGBTQ leaders and neighbors who can say, ‘This is why I got the vaccine,'” in order to encourage others to follow suit, Bowles says. “So we’re going to share those testimonials, and will be releasing infographics and factoids related to COVID-19 boosters and vaccines in the LGBTQ+ community, sharing statistics from DC Health as well as nationally, so we can continue the push of knowledge about getting boosted and the different resources available.”

REAL TALK: A Conversation on COVID-19 Vaccination & Boosters with the LGBTQ+ Community, will be held from 6-7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 7. To register for this virtual meeting, visit dcnet.webex.com.

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