LGBTQ health study announced; variants renamed; hope for ‘All-American summer’

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Happy Pride Month!

There’s plenty to celebrate this June, as some Pride events will happen in person and inclusive spaces such as lesbian bars are once again opening up. But many in the LGBTQ community, and especially young people and teens, have faced added risks during the pandemic. The full fallout isn’t yet clear, since data on COVID-19 and its consequences in LGBTQ people are scarce, but that may change with the announcement of a new collaboration between five LGBTQ-focused health centers spread across the nation. The group will examine the pandemic health experiences of their respective communities, reports Southern California’s City News Service. “Collecting information on how LGBTQ people are experience the COVID-19 pandemic helps us to understand how overlapping social stigmas and discrimination can cause illness among people who are often marginalized, and how public health policies can intervene,” said Don Blanchon, CEO of the Whitman-Walker Health System in Washington, D.C.

There have been unexpected bright spots amid the pandemic too, writes Sadhbh O’Sullivan at Refinery29. Lockdown gave some people time and space to consider their own identities without external social pressures. “I really feel like this is the start of my life,” commented one woman who embraced her lesbian identity during the pandemic. Some people who are transgender have found it easier to be out and about while everyone is masked, reports Steven Blum at Los Angeles Magazine. One woman, who had facial feminization surgery during the summer of 2020, commented, “I feel like the luckiest trans woman in the world to have gone through my transition while everyone was still wearing a mask.”

It’s all Greek for variants

Labeling coronavirus variants with geographic locations has long been recognized as a problem. Saying “Brazilian variant” or “South African variant” has the potential to be inaccurate and confusing, and it can create dangerous stigmas around certain ethnicities and nations. Yet scientific terms such as “B.1.617.2” hardly roll off the tongue. Last week, the World Health Organization announced a new naming system for variants based on Greek letters. “It’s always a good idea to have a name that is just a name,” epidemiologist Ajay Sethi of the University of Wisconsin told USA Today. Ten variants have been assigned Greek letters so far.

For easy reference, here are the four that have risen to “variant of concern” status so far, along with their previous monikers:

Alpha = B.1.1.7 (United Kingdom)

Beta = B.1.351 (South Africa)

Gamma = P.1 (Brazil)

Delta = B.1.167.2 (India)

Do immunocompromised people need a third shot?

COVID-19 vaccines work extraordinarily well for most people, but it’s becoming clear that this may not be so for the 10 million Americans who take medicines that dampen their immune systems. People who’ve received organ transplants — who require such medication to prevent their body from rejecting the organ — are particularly vulnerable, as are people under treatment for conditions such as lupus. These people have been living an “evolving science project playing out in real time,” writes Joe Barrett at The Wall Street Journal. A recent study found that nearly half of transplant recipients did not make antibodies against the coronavirus after two vaccines, while the others made a lower amount than people with normal immune systems. Left without clear options, some have sought an extra vaccine dose beyond the recommended course, and even considered adjusting their immune-regulating medications before that third shot. Others are turning to lab-made antibodies that provide temporary protection from the virus. There’s little research to guide these decisions at present. “Unfortunately, it’s not known what should be done,” Dr. Mark Mulligan of NYU’s Langone Vaccination Center told the Journal. “We don’t have data.”

Aiming for a ‘summer of freedom’

It’s been more than three weeks since the CDC announced vaccinated people could go mask-free in nearly all situations, and so far, the results are encouraging. Infections continue to decline, and the new guidance kicked off a bump in visits to the U.S. vaccines.gov site and temporarily halted the slide in vaccination rates among people 16 and older. But the next few weeks, in the wake of Memorial Day travel and gatherings, will be an important “stress test,” cautioned CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen.

President Biden remains optimistic about an “all-American summer,” replete with in-person celebrations. Last Wednesday, he announced June would be a “month of action” to get people vaccinated, and launched the latest set of federal outreach efforts and incentives. These range from providing vaccines in barbershops serving Black communities to offering free babysitting for parents and providers while they get vaccinated and recover from side effects. There are also cash and sporting event ticket giveaways. If U.S. adults as a group hit Biden’s goal of a 70% vaccination rate, Anheuser-Busch has promised to buy the country a round of drinks. (There’s still a ways to go — and the hill will keep getting steeper.)

Amber Dance | Columnist

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