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West Bengal: No clinical trial of Covid-19 jab on transgenders, fear and mistrust keep majority of them away, say experts

Transgenders undergo several surgeries as well as hormonal treatments and there has been no trial so far to see whether Covid-19 vaccines have any adverse impact due to it.

By: PTI | Kolkata |
Updated: September 18, 2021 7:18:07 pm
A few transgenders in the state's Murshidabad district as well as in the city said that they are being ''threatened'' by the administration to take the vaccine or face a social boycott.(Representational/Twitter/@DM_NorthWest)

A sizeable number of transgenders in West Bengal are yet to get a Covid-19 jab, the primary reasons being fear and mistrust among them about its impact owing to lack of clinical trial on them till date, experts said on Saturday.

Transgenders undergo several surgeries as well as hormonal treatments and there has been no trial so far to see whether Covid-19 vaccines have any adverse impact due to it, they said.

Even threats of social boycott, taking away benefits of social schemes and of even stopping monthly rations could not force them to take the vaccine, several transgenders from across West Bengal said.

“A big chunk of the transgender community is yet to take the vaccine. This is because they are confused and have medical mistrust since no clinical trial was conducted,” clinical trial specialist and pharmacologist Subhrojyoti Bhowmick told PTI.

Since the transgenders undergo treatments like hormonal therapy, breast implant, vaginoplasty (construction or reconstruction of the vagina), mastectomy (removal of one or both breasts), a trial is necessary before they are administered the vaccine, he said.

Incidentally, a proposal to study the factors hindering Covid-19 inoculation and immunological response post-vaccination on 500 transgenders in the city by a team of doctors led by Bhowmick to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) was rejected.

The team was told that the matter was not of national importance.

When contacted, a senior official of the state health department said that 25 to 30 per cent of the total transgender population of West Bengal were inoculated, many of them with the first dose, till early this month.

“Around 7,500 of the transgender population in West Bengal have been vaccinated with at least the first dose. This is not a very good scenario since quite a good number of them are yet to receive the vaccine,” the official said.

West Bengal’s total transgender population is nearly 30500, he added.

Sanjib Bandopadhyay, a doctor of the state-run Beliaghata Infectious Diseases Hospital, supported the transgenders’ demand for a separate trial of the vaccines on them but rubbished their fear associated with the inoculation.

“Their (transgenders) demand for a trial is quite valid. But their fear of the consequences is illogical as there is not a single example of a transgender facing any health issue after being vaccinated.

“At this stage, the jab is a necessity and everybody must go for the doses,” he said.

Sukanta Das alias Chorki, a transgender from Mullickpur at Baruipur in the southern fringes of the city, said that she is yet to take the vaccine.

“Tell me why should I get inoculated. There was no clinical trial conducted on any of us to find out whether it has any adverse effect on our body system. Many of us have to take regular medicines and I am one of them.

“Recently I have started taking medicines because I have to undergo vaginoplasty. I am the sole bread earner in my family and if something goes wrong with me who will look after them,” Chorki said.

Debi Acharya, another transgender in Malda town, said that though she was initially reluctant to take the vaccine, she understood the need for it after attending a few awareness programmes.

A few transgenders in the state’s Murshidabad district as well as in the city said that they are being ”threatened” by the administration to take the vaccine or face a social boycott.

They claimed that they had also been told that their monthly rations would be stopped if they do not take the vaccine.

“The local councillor had sent his men to my residence who asked to me quickly take the vaccine or else they will make sure that I am socially boycotted and I do not get rations or can purchase goods from local shops and markets,” a transgender in Behrampore said when contacted over the phone.

Vaccine trial facilitator Snehendu Konar stressed the need to carry out a trial of the vaccines on transgenders. “So far there has been no clinical trial on the transgenders. So no safety, immunogenicity and efficacy data of Covid-19 vaccines on this group is available to us”.

The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) should include transgenders in its vaccine study protocol, he said.

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