Vaccine-O-Licious 18: Research and Nightlife Unite In Brooklyn!
May 28, 2023, marked the 18th edition of Vaccine-O-Licious, Project ACHIEVE and Columbia Research Unit’s annual drag pageant to raise awareness for HIV vaccine research.
This year’s event was the first one held in Brooklyn—at the Glam Award-winning 3 Dollar Bill—and it also boasted the highest attendance to date. With the sun shining and an outdoor event running concurrently, hundreds of spectators stopped in to watch eight drag performers compete for the title of Mx. Vaccine-O-Licious 18.
Hosted by Jus Jahlisa (the Queen of Vaccine) and Stella D’oro (the Queen Mum of Vaccine), the pageant also featured informational speeches by John Bonelli of Project ACHIEVE and Jorge Benitez of CRU. Sponsors from AIDS Healthcare Foundation, HIV Stops with Me, and SelectHealth NY were present to share resources and information with attendees.
Jiggly Caliente (of RuPaul’s Drag Race) and Jayse Vegas—a Brooklyn-based singer, songwriter and dancer—gave stunning guest performances to support the cause. Caliente also served on the judges’ panel, together with nightlife veterans Captain Wonder and Kareem McJagger as well as research advocates Damon Jacobs and Jae Viloria.
Each contestant was judged on talent, presentation, Q&A and audience applause. While the judges deliberated, PACRU held a raffle for prizes including smart TVs.
Ultimately, the pageant’s crown and title went to Manhattan-based drag queen Taraye, who will spend the coming year partnering with PACRU as a research advocate and liaison between PACRU and NYC’s LGBTQIA+ community. AriaJae finished as a close first alternate.
The second half of 2023 and beginning of 2024 are slated to contain a series of community engagement events hosted by the rising Mx. Vaccine-O-Licious 18. Keep an eye on CRU’s social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) for more details!