Gay frontline workers happily roll up sleeves for COVID vaccine

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By now, you’ve probably seen posts from people receiving a dose of COVID-19 vaccines. It’s easy, the side effects are mild and anyone with an opportunity should do it, say two gay healthcare workers in Atlanta.

“During injection, I honestly never felt anything,” said Rom Ghannam, a CORE Response outreach mobilizer and caretaker for his octogenarian mom. “It happened so fast and painless. A few hours later, I experienced a minor soreness in my left arm around the injection area. Other than that, no side effects whatsoever.”

“The next morning, it was if nothing happened,” he added.

CORE conducts free coronavirus testing around Atlanta including LGBTQ spaces like Heretic and Ansley Mall. The Fulton County Board of Health provided CORE employees with the Pfizer vaccine. Ghannam got his first done in December with fellow Community Mobilizer Thomas Le.

“They ask that you stay for 20 minutes after so they can monitor you in case of any side effects or allergic reactions to the vaccine,” Le told Project Q. “ It also gave you time to read over some educational material that was provided to you about the vaccine.”

In that 20 minutes, slight shortness of breath and, like Ghannam, soreness after the shot as well. For him, the injection site remained sore, and he experienced some spontaneous fatigue for a few days. He also “sneezed about 10-15 times,” a regular sign for him that his body is reacting to something new.

“I did not get sick at any time after the vaccine,” he said. “I would advise everyone to listen to their own body, as we will all respond to the vaccine differently both mentally and physically.”

Friends, family and beyond

The pair received their first dose on Dec. 18, and they are scheduled for the second dose on Friday, Jan. 8. Part of their jobs includes educating people about vaccine safety in a world full of misinformation. A CORE survey during testing opened Le’s eyes to the challenges, he said.

“One of the questions on the survey was, ‘Will you get the vaccine when it becomes available?’  To my surprise, the response was 50 percent yes and 50 percent no,” Le said.

“Another specific question we had on our survey was, ‘How long will you wait to get the vaccine?’,” he added. “ About 70 percent of people responded immediately when it becomes available to them while the other 30 percent said they would wait one-to-three-months plus months after the vaccine comes out.”

All of Le’s friends and most of Ghannam’s friends and family expect to take the vaccine when their turn arrives. Ghannam’s 84-year-old mother wants to wait to see post-injection data before she takes one. Still, about 5 percent of his circle are “non-believers” who don’t plan to take a covid vaccine at all.

“I try to help educate them by sharing numerous, easy-to-understand educational material from different reliable sources,” Ghannam said. “I find when educating adults with different political and social points of view,  offering them easy to relate and understand educational material via video or photo illustrations absolutely helps.”

Both men also post on social media to reach further outside their circles. Le said that anyone who is on the fence about vaccines should know they are not alone.

“It’s ok to be uncertain about when you want to get the vaccine,” Le said. “I would say continue doing your own research and make the decision that’s best for you.”

Ghannam agreed.

“Knowledge is power,” he said. “Suggesting resources and creating non-confrontational social gatherings to discuss the positive and real-world post-vaccination experiences wins many hearts and minds.”

Visit CORE Response for COVID testing sites and other resources.

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