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Are COVID-19 vaccines safe for people living with HIV?

LONDON: As the first COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out around the world, HIV/AIDS experts and advocates have sought to reassure those living with HIV that they can safely get the coronavirus vaccination.

Some countries have recommended that HIV-positive people should be given priority for vaccination against COVID-19 once the most at-risk groups – the elderly and frontline healthcare workers – have received their shots.

Germany has said HIV-positive people will be included in a third tier of priority patients – along with the over-60s, people with conditions such as heart, kidney and liver disease, and those working in key sectors like education.

In Britain, people living with HIV will be included in the sixth priority group for vaccination, after those aged 65 and over, healthcare workers and people with more severe health conditions.

Here is what HIV experts say about the COVID-19 vaccines:

MICHAEL BRADY, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, TERRENCE HIGGINS TRUST

“We strongly recommend that everyone living with HIV should have the COVID vaccine when they are offered it.

“(In Britain) if your HIV doctor says you are very high risk … you may be put into priority group four and get the vaccine sooner.

“The term ‘high risk’ refers to people with a CD4 count less than 50, people who have recently had a severe HIV-related illness or those with a CD4 count between 50 and 200 and other issues or conditions that would significantly increase the risk of getting sick.”

(CD4 cells are white blood cells that fight infection and a CD4 count is a measure of how healthy someone’s immune system is when they are living with HIV.)

MATTHEW HODSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AIDSMAP

“Some of the vaccines, such as the Oxford and Pfizer vaccines, specifically recruited people living with HIV … At present there has been no evidence presented to suggest that people with HIV have a different response to the COVID vaccine.

“On a personal level, as someone who has been living with HIV for 22 years, I will not hesitate to get vaccinated.”

SVETLANA DEGTYAREVA, INFECTIOUS DISEASES DOCTOR, H-CLINIC MOSCOW

“Based on the composition and mechanism of action of vaccines against COVID-19 – including the Russian Sputnik-V (vaccine) – we can assume that they should be safe for people living with HIV.

“Vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer contain only mRNA – no live microorganisms – and the Russian vaccine contains genetically modified adenovirus without the capacity for multiplication.

“We need further data from clinical trials and common practical use of them. Unfortunately, clinical trials of Sputnik V did not include HIV-positive participants – HIV-infection was an exclusion criterion according to the protocol.”

PETER GODFREY FAUSSETT, SENIOR ADVISER ON SCIENCE, UNAIDS

“None of the vaccines currently being scaled up or undergoing regulatory review … use live viruses as the mechanism to stimulate antibodies, and it is live vaccines that are most likely to cause problems for people living with HIV.

“For people living with HIV, the COVID-19 vaccines bring the same benefits as they bring to all individuals and communities – prevention of severe disease due to COVID-19 and potentially reduced transmission of the SARS-CoV2 virus.

“People living with HIV should ensure that they are taking effective HIV antiviral treatment which not only keeps people healthy, but also prevents ongoing transmission of HIV.”

LAURA WATERS, CHAIR, BRITISH HIV ASSOCIATION

“Although everything happened very quickly, the (vaccine) trials have still been performed to the same standard, the same safety monitoring, the same external independent group monitoring that safety.

“There are no concerns around interaction with HIV medication at all.”

FIONNUALA MURPHY, HEAD OF INFLUENCE, FRONTLINE AIDS

“There is no evidence to suggest any of the vaccines approved so far will be unsafe for people with HIV, and we are certainly hopeful, but the evidence just isn’t there yet.

“For the majority of people living with HIV worldwide, however, this is a moot point … as many as 90% of people in low- and middle-income countries are unlikely to be vaccinated against COVID-19 next year.”

 

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