COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions for the LGBTQ+ Community

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The COVID-19 pandemic has badly impacted many in the LGBTQ+ community, according to survey data. At the same time, COVID-19 vaccine acceptance among LGBTQ+ persons is relatively high. But certain segments, like transgender people of color, may be more vaccine hesitant than others.

Also, many LGBTQ+ persons are likely to have underlying medical conditions, including HIV and substance use disorders. That increases their risk for severe COVID-19, so it’s important that they get vaccinated. And many younger LGBTQ+ persons are likely to experience homelessness, which makes vaccination a challenge.

The questions and answers below will help you with ensuring that people in the LGBTQ+ community understand their risk for COVID-19 and how to access the vaccines.

For other information on LGBTQ+ health and wellness, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.

Vaccine access, effectiveness, and safety

How do I get vaccinated?

COVID-19 vaccines are here now, and everyone age 12 and older can get them. You have three ways to find vaccines near you:

  • Go to vaccines.gov
  • Text your ZIP code to 438829
  • Call 1-800-232-0233

How much do the vaccines cost?

The COVID-19 vaccines are free of charge to everyone in the United States, regardless of your citizenship status and whether you have health insurance.

Do I need an ID or driver’s license to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

It depends. Check with your state’s department of health. Also, before you go for your vaccine, contact the site where you will be vaccinated or review your appointment confirmation email for details about whether you need to bring ID or a driver’s license with you.

How effective are the COVID-19 vaccines?

All available COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective against severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19, including from the Delta variant.

Remember, to get the most protection from the vaccines, you need all the recommended doses:

  • The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two initial doses.
  • Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine requires one initial dose.

If you meet the criteria for having a compromised immune system, you should get a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at least 4 weeks after your second dose.

If you’ve been vaccinated, you may be eligible for a booster shot to keep up your protection. See the latest guidance on boosters.

Who can get a COVID-19 vaccine booster?

COVID-19 vaccines continue to work very well at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

But protection against infection appears to decrease over time.

A booster shot is an extra dose that helps keep up protection.

You’re eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot if:

  • It’s been at least 6 months since you got the second dose of a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine AND you’re any of the following:
    • At least age 65.

    • At least age 18 and have an underlying medical condition (such as asthma, diabetes, or obesity).

    • At least age 18 and are at increased risk for getting and spreading COVID because of where you live (such as a health care facility, college dormitory, or correctional facility).

    • At least age 18 and are at increased risk for getting and spreading COVID because of your job (such as a health care worker, teacher, or grocery store worker).

OR:

  • You’re at least age 18 and it’s been at least 2 months since you got a dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.

If you’re eligible for a booster, you may choose which vaccine to receive as a booster dose. Your booster shot doesn't have to be the same vaccine you received before.

For more information about boosters, or if you have questions about your eligibility, check out our booster resources or talk to a health care provider.

Note that a booster is not the same as the recommended third vaccine dose for people with compromised immune systems.

Why should I get vaccinated if I can still get infected with COVID-19?

It’s important to understand that infection doesn’t necessarily lead to illness. If you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the virus manages to enter your body and begins to multiply—that is, infect you—your immune system will be prepared to quickly recognize the virus and keep it from doing real damage. That’s why most people who get infected with COVID-19 despite being vaccinated—so-called breakthrough cases—have no symptoms (asymptomatic) or only mild-to-moderate illness.

Nearly everyone in the United States who is getting severely ill, needing hospitalization, and dying from COVID-19 is unvaccinated.

CDC recommends you get vaccinated as soon as you can.

Is it safe for me to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. The COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States meet the FDA’s rigorous standards for safety and effectiveness. Tens of thousands of people of different ages, races, and ethnicities, as well as people with different medical conditions, participated in medical studies to see how well the vaccines work and how safe they are. And tens of millions of people in the United States have now received COVID-19 vaccines, and all COVID vaccines will continue to be monitored for safety.

Serious health effects from vaccines are very rare. It’s highly unlikely that COVID-19 vaccines will cause long-term health problems. Also, there is no evidence at all that they will cause infertility or cancer.

Your risk for serious health problems is much lower from the vaccine than your risk if you’re unvaccinated and get COVID-19. COVID-19 can leave you with heart and lung damage and other conditions that require long-term treatment. Vaccines are much safer paths to immunity than the disease itself.

What are the side effects of a  COVID-19 vaccine?

Some people may experience side effects after getting vaccinated, but they are generally mild and last at most a few days.

You might have pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where you got the shot, and you might experience feeling tired, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, or nausea.

Talk to your health care provider about taking over-the-counter medicine like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin for any pain or discomfort you may have after getting vaccinated. Don’t take over-the-counter medicine before your vaccine appointment to try to prevent pain or discomfort.

Do I need to get a COVID-19 vaccine if I’ve already had COVID?

Yes, you should get vaccinated even if you’ve already had COVID-19. Scientists don’t know yet how long the natural antibodies of people who have had COVID-19 will protect them from being infected again.

After I’m fully vaccinated, do I need to continue to wear a mask and stay 6 feet apart from people who don’t live with me?

If you’re fully vaccinated, you can participate in many of the activities that you did before the pandemic. To maximize protection from the highly contagious Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask inside public places if you’re in an area of substantial or high spread of COVID-19.

If you’re not yet vaccinated, you should continue to:

  • Wear a mask when inside public places.
  • Keep at least 6 feet part from people who don’t live with you and who may not be vaccinated.
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.

Vaccinated and unvaccinated people must still follow federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial laws, rules, and regulations. That includes public transportation, airport/airplane, local business, and workplace guidance.

Do people with compromised immune systems need extra doses of a COVID-19 vaccine?

People with compromised immune systems are less able to fight infections. If any of the following apply to you, you may not be fully protected from COVID-19 even if you’ve received two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s or Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine:

  • You have a moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency disorder, such as DiGeorge syndrome or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome.
  • You have an advanced or untreated HIV infection.
  • You’ve ever had an organ transplant or had a stem cell transplant within the last 2 years.
  • You’re being treated with corticosteroids or other immunosuppressant medicines for such conditions as arthritis, asthma, or an autoimmune disease, such as lupus, sarcoidosis, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis.
  • You’re being treated for cancer.

To get the most benefit from the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, people with compromised immune systems should get a third dose. Wait at least 4 weeks after you get your second dose to get your third dose.

You should also continue to follow current COVID-19 prevention measures until your health care provider says it’s safe for you to stop:

  • Wear a mask when inside public places.
  • Keep at least 6 feet part from people who don’t live with you and who may not be vaccinated.
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated space
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.

Homelessness and COVID-19

How can people experiencing homelessness protect themselves when COVID-19 is spreading in their community?

Many of the recommendations to prevent COVID-19 may be difficult for a person experiencing homelessness to do. While avoiding certain crowded locations (such as shelters) may be hard to do, people who are homeless should try to avoid other crowded public settings and public transportation. If possible, they should use take-away options for food. They should stay at least 6 feet (two arms length) from other people. And they should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds as often as possible, and cover their coughs and sneezes.

Are youth experiencing homelessness required to have caregiver consent to receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is available for people as young as age 12. While federal law doesn’t require people younger than age 18 to get caregiver consent for COVID-19 vaccination or any other vaccination, state and territorial laws differ. Check your state and local regulations.

Is there a COVID-19 vaccine that is preferred for people experiencing homelessness?

No. There is no preferred vaccine for people experiencing homelessness. There are currently three different COVID-19 vaccines available and recommended for use in the United States. The available vaccines have differences in how they were developed, the ingredients they contain, and their recommended dosing. More information on each of the vaccines can be found here.

Many people will only have one vaccine option available to them. All currently available COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective against severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19, including from the Delta variant. For the earliest protection from COVID-19, the best vaccine is the first one available.

For more information, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus.

HIV and COVID-19

Are COVID-19 vaccines safe for people with HIV?

The U.S. vaccine safety system makes sure all vaccines are as safe as possible. COVID-19 vaccines have gone through the same safety tests and meet the same standards as other vaccines. People with HIV were included in clinical trials, though safety data specific to this group are not yet available.

People with HIV are part of the group of people with underlying medical conditions. If you have HIV, you may choose to get vaccinated if you have not had a severe or immediate allergic reaction to any of the vaccine ingredients. If you have a weakened immune system, you should also be aware of the potential for reduced immune responses to the vaccine. If you decide to get vaccinated, continue to take everyday preventive actions to protect yourself against COVID- 19.

Learn more about what CDC and other federal partners are doing to make sure COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

What can people with HIV do to protect themselves from COVID-19?

The best way to prevent getting sick is to avoid exposure to the virus.

People with HIV should take everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of COVID- 19.

If you have HIV and are taking your HIV medicine, it is important to continue your treatment and follow the advice of your health care provider. This is the best way to keep your immune system healthy.

People with HIV should also continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle by:

Staying healthy helps your immune system fight off infection should it occur.

What should I do if I have HIV and think I might have COVID-19?

Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms that could be consistent with COVID-19.

Most people have mild illness and can recover at home. If you think you have COVID-19 and have symptoms of illness, you should get tested.

It’s important to continue taking your HIV medicine as prescribed. This will help keep your immune system healthy.

If you experience severe symptoms, get emergency medical care immediately. Call ahead to the emergency department and tell the operator that you may have COVID-19.

Learn more about COVID-19 and what to do if you get sick.

What else can people with HIV who are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 do to protect themselves?

Nearly half of people in the United States with diagnosed HIV are aged 50 years and older. People with HIV also have higher rates of certain underlying health conditions. Older age and underlying health conditions can put people with HIV at increased risk for more severe illness if they get COVID-19. This is especially true for people with advanced HIV.

Steps that people with HIV can take to prepare in addition to what is recommended for everybody:

  • Make sure you have at least a 30- to 90-day supply of your HIV medicine and any other medications or medical supplies you need for managing HIV. Ask your health care provider about receiving your medicine by mail.
  • Talk to your health care provider and make sure all your vaccinations are up to date, including vaccinations against seasonal influenza (flu) and bacterial pneumonia. These vaccine-preventable diseases disproportionally affect people with HIV.
  • Establish and maintain a plan for remote clinical care. Try to establish a telemedicine link through your HIV care provider’s online portal. If telemedicine is not available to you, make sure you can communicate with your provider by phone or text. You can update your remote clinical care plan every year, or any time you have a change in your health or HIV treatment.
  • If your HIV is undetectable (or virally suppressed), talk to your health care provider about delaying your routine medical and lab visits.
  • If your health care provider changed your HIV treatment, ask if it’s safe to delay the change until follow-up testing and monitoring are possible.
  • Make sure you can maintain a social network remotely, such as online, by phone, or by video chat. This can help you stay socially connected and mentally healthy, which is especially important for people with HIV.
  • People with HIV can sometimes be more likely than others to need extra help from friends, family, neighbors, community health workers, and others. If you become sick, make sure you stay in touch by phone or email with people who can help you.

Can HIV medicine (ART) be used to treat COVID-19?

Currently, treatment for COVID-19 is very limited. There is no evidence that any medicines used to treat HIV are effective against COVID-19. People with HIV should not switch their HIV medicine in an attempt to prevent or treat COVID-19.

Some clinical trials are looking at whether HIV medicines can treat COVID-19. Other trials are looking at the effectiveness of different drugs to treat COVID-19 in people with HIV. They are also looking to better understand how people with HIV manage COVID-19. You can learn more at ClinicalTrials.gov.

Substance use disorders and COVID-19

Can people taking medications for opioid use disorder, such as methadone or buprenorphine, receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. No safety issues have been reported linking medications for opioid use disorder to adverse reactions to any of the available COVID-19 vaccines. Experts recommend people taking medications for opioid use disorder receive a COVID-19 vaccine and continue their medications as directed by their health care provider.

If I can’t avoid substance use during the COVID-19 pandemic, how do I practice safer substance use?

An overdose may be less likely to turn fatal if others are present when you use substances. If you’re with others, protect yourself and them:

  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can.
  • Wear a mask when inside public places. However, if a person is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a mask without help, they should not wear one.
  • Stay at least 6 feet apart from others.
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your face or your injection site with your bare hands. To prevent infection, always wash your hands and wash any injection sites with soap and water before and after handling drugs. If soap and water are not available, you can use alcohol wipes or a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

If you’re unable to avoid using drugs alone, practice harm reduction strategies. Harm reduction strategies aim to reduce negative consequences associated with drug use.

For more information, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus.

SAFETY IS THE TOP PRIORITY

The FDA and CDC have the highest standards when it comes to ensuring the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Their process includes the following procedures:

  • Scientists must first test vaccines extensively in medical studies to ensure they are safe and effective.
  • Before the FDA authorizes a vaccine for use among the public, it ensures its safety by independently:
    • Reviewing the data from the medical studies, and
    • Inspecting the manufacturing facilities.
  • Even after a vaccine has been made available, the FDA and CDC closely monitor vaccine administration to identify even rare side effects or reactions.
  • The FDA and CDC closely review any reports of side effects or reactions and share these facts with the public.

The extremely rare cases of blood clotting and Guillain-Barré Syndrome following Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine and heart inflammation following Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s vaccines—a very small number of cases out of millions of vaccinations—show that the FDA and CDC’s vaccine safety monitoring systems work and catch even the rarest reactions.

Thorough investigations have confirmed that all currently available COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective against severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19, including from the Delta variant. Medical experts stress that the benefits of receiving any of the COVID-19 vaccines in use in the United States far outweigh any potential risks.

The monitoring systems ensure that doctors are notified to watch for signs of serious reactions, no matter how rare, and are aware of proper courses of treatment.