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STNS Reached the Last Mile

December 6, 2021

Over the last few months Salem Thirunangaigal Nala Sangam (STNS), a community-based organization working with vulnerable communities in Salem, Tamil Nadu had been conducting vaccination camps for the trans community, since June 2021 to ensure that the community has access to the COVID vaccine. Aside from the stigma faced by the community when attempting to access healthcare services at local hospitals or clinics, there has been a lot of hesitancy towards getting vaccinated.

Majority of the trans community STNS works with are engaged in sex work. The sex worker community has been directly impacted by COVID-19, as sex work was their only source of income. Some were HIV positive, others were on hormone therapy and some believed that they would die in a year due to the side effects of the vaccine. Within the community, there isn’t enough information about potential side effects of the vaccine or its impact on the individual taking it. Rajeshree*, a transwoman, said “I was reluctant to get the vaccine since I would have to go to a public hospital, stand in a long queue, and be stared at because of the clothes I wear. The public would also constantly call me names and pass comments.” Many such instances came from the community which further encouraged STNS to organize targeted vaccination camps for the trans community.

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As a first step, the wellness facilitators of STNS addressed the hesitancy and encouraged the community leaders to get vaccinated. This caused a trickle-down effect as the community leaders further encouraged the community to get both doses of the vaccination. The camps were held at the STNS office to ensure they had easy and safe access without having to face any stigma or discrimination. A number of the community members were also accompanied by their partners, friends, and some family members who got the shot along with them. A majority of the vaccinated individuals were transwomen, with a few transmen also accessing the camp accessed the camps. The facilitators and volunteers at the camp addressed the many concerns regarding the vaccine and also shared post-vaccine care information with them. 

While many members of the trans community were able to get the shot, few were unable to do so due to a lack of government-approved documentation. Especially those who’d recently joined the community (since moving out of their family homes post coming out as a trans person) did not have any documentation with them. The STNS team along with the local authorities have been working on addressing the issue of documentation through a social protection help desk set up at their office and a subsequent follow-up to ensure they have received their vaccination. 

While India has passed the 100 billion vaccinated milestone, there is still a long way to go before reaching the last mile. Organizations such as STNS are ensuring that this happens.

*Name changed to protect the identity

About STNS: 

STNS was formed by women to empower marginalized women. It is a community-based organization working in Salem, Tamil Nadu. They work with female sex workers, marginalized women, and the trans community to strengthen community mobilization, reduce stigma and discrimination, enable access to health care, etc. They also work on policy, advocacy, and building capacities of community leaders.  STNS is an active member of the Taaras Coalition and a partner of the #COVIDActionCollab. 

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