Vaccination is the world’s only shield against the health crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus. However, many marginalized communities are left out, and the transgender community is one of the most affected. There are many reasons for this, many of which have not been proactively addressed.
A strained relationship with the healthcare system already pushes them away from availing any healthcare services like vaccines. Right to safe and equitable healthcare has been denied to trans communities for decades, instead, they repeatedly face uncomfortable questions about their bodies at hospitals. This community has been facing harassment from all corners, including the public and private healthcare systems. In fact, their gender is neither recognized nor accepted in various formal registrations, even though the Supreme Court of India has recognized transgender as a class entitled to reservation in education and jobs in 2014.
The complexity grows further for COVID-19 vaccines as there is a lack of knowledge on the effects of the vaccines on people undergoing hormone therapy or taking antiretroviral treatment for HIV. It is very common for trans people to go through such treatments. Lack of medical knowledge of their bodies has always been difficult in treating them. These gaps have made the transgender community hesitant, even as the country rolls out large vaccination camps.
Trans people need a space where they feel comfortable, where they are treated with respect and dignity and have their concerns addressed by trusted healthcare providers. Swasti and Samara, NGOs working with trans communities for decades, also recognized that being involved in sex work makes the community highly susceptible to the COVID-19 virus, and vaccinating them at the earliest was the need of the hour. They organized webinars for the community to talk and discuss their concerns with the doctors and further ensured that a camp was organized to specially vaccinate trans people. More than 200 trans people were served in this camp.