Sexual stigma gets in the way of life-saving vaccine

By JORDYN GRUBISIC and KIRSTY WILSON

A public health initiative in Victoria is offering free Hepatitis A vaccinations to men who have sex with men.

It was implemented after a health alert was issued to health professionals in January this year about an outbreak of Hepatitis A across the state.

Jen Johnson said there was sill a stigma attached to sexually transmissible diseases.

Jen Johnson, Blood Borne Virus Sector Development Program Coordinator at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Societysaid there was still a stigma related to sexually transmissible diseases and that could be discouraging gay and bisexual men from getting vaccinated.

“Stigma is not all that easy to measure, and some guys may well feel stigmatised. Mostly it will depend on how sensitively clinicians introduce the issue and explain the risk,” Ms Johnson said.

“It will also be important for media to avoid using stigmatising language and imagery when reporting on this issue,” she said.

Ms Johnson said there was a concern that some men who were eligible for the vaccinations were still unaware of the initiative.

“I think gay and bisexual men who attend LGBTQI+ friendly health services will probably be offered the vaccine at their next visit, and those who read queer community publications may also see the notices,” she said.

“However there are plenty of people who won’t find out about it from any of these channels.”

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Jack Murray, a 20-year-old bisexual man from Melbourne, said he was glad the initiative was introduced and planned to get the vaccine.

“The last time I went to see my doctor he mentioned it to me,” Mr Murray said.

“I’m still in the process of finding a time to go and get it done, but I think it’s fantastic.”

The Victorian Government is  offering free Hepatitis A vaccines for men who are sexually active with other men.

Mr Murray said the fear of stigmatisation and internalised homophobia within the LGBTQI+ community could prevent gay and bisexual men from feeling comfortable talking about it to their doctor.

“Just with anyone, talking about this stuff is just that little bit harder,” he said.

“You’re trying to work out if they’re comfortable talking about sexual health as well as if they’re comfortable talking about non-cishet [heterosexual, and identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth] relationships.”

The Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine found stigma and discrimination had a negative effect on both the mental and physical health of gay and bisexual men.

They found that men who had sex with men were particularly vulnerable to STIs due to stigmatisation and a lack of supportive environments.

If you would like to see if you’re eligible for the vaccine follow THIS LINK .