Hepatitis Immunization Rates Remain Less Than Half for Gay and Bisexual Men

Rates Vary Widely by City, Seattle Shines

San Francisco -- Though immunization rates for hepatitis A and B among men who have sex with men continue to improve, Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) President Christopher E. Harris, MD, says that the numbers are "just not good enough," and that in some cities, "the numbers are deeply troubling. We need to send the message that vaccines will prevent transmission. Save yourself the extreme discomfort of the illness, the lost work, the potentially dangerous complications, and possibly your life. Get vaccinated!"

Over the summer, GLMA surveyed 4,152 men at more than two dozen Pride events around the country. Only 38 percent of respondents on a national basis reported receiving any doses of a vaccine against hepatitis A, and 42 percent said they'd been vaccinated against hepatitis B. Seattle had the highest rates of vaccination for both hepatitis A (58 percent) and hepatitis B (57 percent), while San Antonio had the lowest vaccination rates: 15 percent for hepatitis A and 17 percent for hepatitis B.

Other findings:

  • Health care coverage among respondents is relatively good: 81 percent have health care coverage, 84 percent have a regular provider, and 59 percent say that their provider knows their sexual orientation.
  • Respondents who have health coverage and a regular health care provider are more likely to be vaccinated, as are those who are out to their provider.
  • Respondents who have a provider but who are not out to that provider are wary of asking their provider for vaccination.
  • Many respondents seem not have to completed their vaccination series (two shots of vaccine against hepatitis A, three shots of vaccine against hepatitis B, or three shots of the combination vaccine) and may not be fully protected.
  • Respondents who had gone to an STD clinic who are clearly at risk for sexual transmission of hepatitis A and B are only slightly more likely to be vaccinated against either disease than those respondents who have never visited an STD clinic (42 percent vs. 35 percent for hepatitis A, 45 percent vs. 40 percent for hepatitis B).

"This last finding is one of the most disturbing," Harris said. "Why aren't these men being vaccinated when they visit the clinic? This is precisely where we can make a difference. We have clearly made some gains -- hopefully because of GLMA's national outreach during the last four years -- but it is equally clear that we've not yet won the battle and that outreach on a local level is critical.

"One factor seems apparent," Harris continued. "In such cities as Seattle, where the department of public health conducted an aggressive hepatitis A and B immunization campaign, it worked. We urge all public health departments and community medical centers to increase awareness of the risks of hepatitis, the availability of vaccine, and to offer free or low-cost immunization to the public."

GLMA surveys conducted annually in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco do indicate a gradual increase in vaccination rates over time. In 1998, Chicago's survey indicated that 19 percent had been vaccinated against hepatitis A. The number rose to 47 percent in 2002. Los Angeles moved from 20 percent to 33 percent; New York from 27 percent to 48 percent; and San Francisco from 25 to 32 percent. Immunizations against B showed less but still promising growth. While Chicago's numbers showed only a 2 percentage point improvement, New York showed a gain of 18 percent in four years from 31 to 49 percent, San Francisco showed a 6-point jump and Los Angeles a 4 point increase.

Hepatitis A and B are two serious liver diseases that affect men who have sex with men at a higher rate than the general population. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and GLMA both recommend vaccination for hepatitis A and B for all gay and bisexual men. For more information on hepatitis, go to www.glma.org and click on hepatitis. To find an LGBT-friendly health care provider, click on Online Health Care Providers.

Survey Results

Respondents who answered "yes" to the question, "Have you ever received any shots for Hepatitis A?"

Seattle58.5%Chicago Black Pride37.6
Bronx, NY51.5Orlando36.4
St. Louis49.6Rochester, NY36.3
Washington, DC48.7Brooklyn, NY35.1
Chicago (Halsted)47.4Los Angeles32.7
Buffalo, NY46.3Long Beach, CA32.4
Queens, NY45.5San Francisco32.4
Las Vegas43.1Minneapolis31.0
Dallas39.9Austin, TX27.3
NYC Black Pride38.7Syracuse, NY26.3
All Cities38.6Pittsburgh24.6
  Huntington, NY22.8
  San Antonio14.9

Respondents who answered "yes" to the question, "Have you ever received any shots for Hepatitis B?"

Seattle57.0%San Francisco42.0
Atlanta52.4Las Vegas40.8
Buffalo48.6St. Louis39.3
Bronx, NY48.5Dallas37.8
Queens, NY47.7Brooklyn, NY37.4
Orlando47.0Syracuse, NY37.2
Washington, DC46.8Austin, TX36.4
Rochester, NY45.3Minneapolis36.3
Philadelphia44.3Los Angeles34.5
Chicago (Halsted St.)44.0NY Black Pride33.3
Denver42.4Chicago Black Pride33.1
All Cities42.1Huntington, NY32.7
  Long Beach, CA31.5
  San Antonio16.8

The largest organization of its kind and the recognized authority and leader in LGBT health, GLMA exists to make the health care environment a place of empathy, justice, and equity. The organization, founded in 1981, represents the concerns of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health professionals as well as millions of LGBT patients throughout North America.

Contact: Ron Tierney, 415-255-4547, ext., 309, or rtierney@glma.org.