Hepatitis A and B Vaccination Rates Improve

Majority of Gay and Bi Men Still Not Protected

San Francisco -- A survey conducted for the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) suggests that vaccination rates for hepatitis A and B have increased significantly in large urban areas, but that a majority of men who have sex with men (MSM) remain unprotected.

The results are based on the random sampling of 2,566 MSM men who attended PrideFest events in 1999 and 2000. This year's 10-city survey, that also included attendees of the Millennium March, showed a jump of 13 percentage points for hepatitis A vaccinations and six percentage points for hepatitis B over the previous year.

When all cities are averaged, 35.5 percent of respondents said they had received the two shots necessary to fully protect against hepatitis A infection, and 38.9 percent said they had received the three shots necessary to protect against hepatitis B. These figures show a significant increase from the results of a similar 1999 survey conducted in five cities which showed the hepatitis A vaccination rate to be 22.3 percent, and the hepatitis B vaccination rate at 33.4 percent.

Three out of four respondents said they were aware of the hepatitis A vaccine prior to taking the survey (up from 65.2 percent last year). 73.5 percent also said they were aware of the hepatitis B vaccine.

Public health officials caution, however, that the rates of vaccination among gay and bisexual men are still lower than they need be to protect the community and prevent future outbreaks.

"It is a good trend, but we'd like to see vaccination rates higher," said Rob Lyerla, Ph.D., of the CDC. "One hundred percent would be perfect, and is clearly our goal. Numbers like this indicate that we have a long way to go."

Hepatitis A and B are both serious diseases affecting the liver. Gay and bisexual men are at increased risk for contracting hepatitis A and B, with incidence rates in the gay community reported to be several times greater than the rates for heterosexual men. The CDC, GLMA, and many state and local health departments recommend vaccination against hepatitis A and B for men who have sex with men.

"Every gay and bi man should be immunized. There is really no excuse," said GLMA President Saul Levin, MD. "We have the vaccines. They work. And when we protect ourselves, we also protect our partners. It makes sense."

Levin also said that GLMA is extremely active in the fight against hepatitis A and B.

"In May of 2000, we launched a comprehensive public education campaign," he said, "with print advertisements in the major national and local LGBT publications, a new patient-education brochure, a poster and a new section on the GLMA web site (www.glma.org)."

GLMA materials have been used in local hepatitis A and B vaccination programs around the country, including programs at Fenway Health in Boston, Callen-Lorde in New York, Howard Brown in Chicago, Lambda Medical in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Department of Public Health's Adult Immunization Clinic.

GLMA also launched an automated physician referral network in March to help LGBT persons find a physician in their area. The physician referral network can be accessed at the GLMA web site.