Millions of Indians have been vaccinated against COVID-19 as the country aims at vaccinating its entire adult population by the end of this year.
While many experts have prophesized that this is an impossible goal, primarily due to a lack of vaccine stocks, even now, the numbers hide more than they reveal. The vaccination coverage is not equal.
You are less likely to have received the vaccine if you are a woman, from a rural area, poor, illiterate, lacking digital access or a transgender person.
Transgender persons are around four times less likely to have received the COVID-19 vaccination than a cisgender vaccination.
The race to vaccination for a transgender person is full of many hurdles.
Trans persons have been traditionally mistreated at medical facilities and by our healthcare system, the same system which is now offering vaccination. Access to these places and systems has been always a traumatic experience and with no changes made continues to remain the same.
Neither the infrastructure has been made trans-friendly nor the staff trained to become one. How then do we expect trans persons to come and access vaccination in such transphobic settings?
While the vaccination campaign tried to build up people’s trust in the vaccines, the trans community has been excluded from the same. There has been no specific communication campaign to address the concerns of the trans community and motivate them to take up the vaccines. Such campaigns have been done previously for including Trans voters.
If it can be done for votes, then why not for vaccines?
Trans persons have specific issues and have genuine medical concerns. The vaccine trials have not been conducted in Trans individuals for safety and efficacy. Trans people may be using hormone replacement therapy. Some of them have HIV and are on medications for the same as well as for Tuberculosis. US CDC has recently advised that immunodeficient persons may need three doses of vaccines. This is not even a matter of discussion in India.
Vaccination uses a variety of photo identity cards and Aadhaar is one of them – arguably also the easiest to get. Yet it is no wonder that only 60,000 people have Transgender Aadhaar cards against the population of nearly 5 lacs in the last census in 2011. How are these people accessing vaccination?
Also, many times, the Aadhaar card has a dead name or wrong gender of the trans person and as the same would reflect on their Vaccination certificate, they are hesitant to get vaccinated till this is resolved.
The CoWin app which is used to register and verify vaccines uses male, female, and others as gender options. There is no Transgender option and hence no way to find how many trans persons got vaccinated. This was reflected in a recent reply to a query in Parliament that the government doesn’t have data as to how many Trans people have received the vaccination. There is literal otherization of trans people in covid vaccination.
The trans community has demanded that exclusive centres be made available for their vaccination. While a few such centres cropped up, they are less in numbers and unplanned. As a result, the uptake of vaccination from such centres has been poor. We need to ensure that all existing centres are made trans-friendly while having atleast one site for trans persons exclusively which can serve as a model centre.
Getting the entire country vaccinated is not rocket science.
Indeed we have been able to even figure out rockets but the vaccine hesitancy conundrum confabulates us. The thing we need is a holistic approach in which there is community participation, specific tailor-made communication and easing of access. Only then can every Indian, irrespective of their gender can be protected from COVID-19.