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Vaccine, A Right Not A Privilege

October 5, 2021

Long queues, uncomfortable glances, inability of the health workers to answer my questions, were some of the problems I faced at a health centre conducting Covid-19 vaccinations”, said Joseph*, who got his shot of protection against COVID-19 virus at the special vaccination camp for transgender persons in Puducherry. He is among many transpersons who faced issues in either getting themselves registered on the CO-WIN app or were discriminated against at vaccination centres due to their gender identity. Systemic social exclusion has kept the transgender community to the absolute periphery of the marginalised, creating huge inequality with limited livelihood opportunities available for the community, COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened their vulnerabilities. Access barriers such as meagre source of income, digital illiteracy, absence of identity documents have left a large part of the trans population behind in India’s race against the COVID-19 pandemic. The special vaccination camp in Puducherry was organised by Sahodaran Community Oriented Health Development Society (SCOHD) through CAC’s VaxNow initiative in an attempt to provide an inclusive space with easy vaccine accessibility to the transgender community. SCOHD, known for its work among the community in the HIV domain, had mobilized the local transgender community and encouraged them to visit the camp. Inaugurated by Health Secretary of Puducherry, Dr. T. Arun, the special camp had a team of doctors and support staff, equipped to take on community specific health queries. They were particularly oriented to the needs of the community so that the community’s health concerns could be addressed with care and attention. The camp was at an easy location, with flexible hours, good transport connectivity, and did not require prior appointments. The camp was a part of CAC’s larger outreach initiative which aims to address vaccine inequity among the transgender population. A similar camp was organised in Bangalore as well. The transgender community has a few specific doubts and queries regarding the vaccine. It is a highly diverse group, where some identify as transmen or transwomen while others describe themselves as agender, queer or bi-gender. Exposure to hormone therapies, complex sex reassignment and high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases leave the transgender community immunocompromised, and thus more vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus and also leave them with many doubts and questions on the interaction of the vaccine with their ongoing therapies and its side effects. These doubts are not addressed at most of the vaccination centres. As was evident when Madhurima* asked the doctor at the camp if the vaccine was safe for ‘people like her’. Madhurima, a trans-woman, had recently undergone hormone replacement therapy. She decided to visit the special COVID-19 vaccination camp and discuss the possibilities of any adverse side-effects of the vaccine on her. The special camp at Puducherry provided a safe space to talk, discuss health concerns and a rightful dignified treatment which have been constantly denied to the community. She could share her concerns openly in a secure environment. Joseph, Madhurima, and those visiting the camp returned home with a sense of protection against the deadly virus. As they felt more reassured, many asked for their friends and colleagues, “When are you setting up more of such camps and where?” The question reiterates the need for more such camps to address the concerns of vulnerable communities. *Name changed upon request
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