February 4, 2022

Gay and lesbian adults have greater confidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and are more likely to be vaccinated than heterosexuals, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Vaccination rates were highest for non-Hispanic white gay men, at 94%, and lowest for non-Hispanic Black lesbian women, among whom 57.9% reported getting vaccinated.

Conditions related to severe COVID-19 infection are more common in people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), and they are more likely to work in places that risk coronavirus exposure. LGBT populations are a diverse collection of communities that can face barriers to vaccine access related to race, income and other social determinants. But lack of information about sexual orientation and gender identity in vaccination records makes it difficult to understand how they might be impacted by vaccination efforts.

Dr. Noel Brewer

Dr. Noel Brewer

“Race intersects powerfully with sexual orientation and gender,” said Noel Brewer, PhD, a distinguished professor of health behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health who contributed to the report. “Our findings show that almost all white gay men were vaccinated against COVID-19, but only a little more than half of Black lesbians got the vaccine. Public health experts can use this insight to tailor education and outreach strategies.”

The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report cites data analyzed from the National Immunization Survey – Adult COVID Module that contacted more than 143,000 adults between August 2021 and October of 2021. This survey is the gold standard for vaccination surveillance, using a large sample and random digit dialing to survey U.S. households.

The survey asked whether participants described their sexual orientation as heterosexual or straight, lesbian or gay, bisexual, or something else; and whether they identified as transgender or non-binary.

Results indicate that 85.4% of gay and lesbian adults received one or more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 76.3% of heterosexual respondents. Bisexual adults had the same rate of vaccination as heterosexuals.

A higher percentage of gay, lesbian or bisexual adults were concerned about COVID-19 and felt positive about the importance and safety of vaccination compared to heterosexuals.

Higher percentages of transgender and non-binary respondents also believed the vaccine offered important protection compared to cisgender respondents.

Rates did not differ based on race or ethnicity among transgender, non-binary or cisgender respondents.

“The difference in COVID-19 vaccination rates between white gay men and Black lesbian women is one of the largest we have seen,” Brewer said. “If vaccine surveillance efforts focus on capturing more precise information, it would help local public health agencies overcome barriers that prevent LGBT people from getting vaccines they need.”

Read the full report online.

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

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