Getting the Covid-19 Vaccine When You Are HIV-Positive

Covid-19 vaccines are such new products that many questions about them still remain to be answered.

One such question pertains to the administration of vaccines among HIV-positive individuals.

If you are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus and you’re worried about the state of your immune system, chances are that you’re reluctant to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

The truth of the matter is that information on the topic is quite limited. Still, there are some recommendations and guidelines you can count on to make the best decision for yourself.

The Evidence and Facts So Far

Luckily, UNAIDS has published an official document that answers some of the most important questions about getting the Covid-19 shot if you’re HIV-positive.

To understand the explanation, it’s important to first get some idea about how vaccines work.

The authorised Covid-19 vaccines on the market today work by “supplying” the body with some of the SARS-CoV-2 genetic material. This way, the immune system is stimulated to form antibodies. When the process is completed, the body can attack the virus and eliminate it before it gets to bind with cells during the infection process.

None of the vaccines that have already been approved or that are currently under scrutiny are the so-called live vaccine variety. Attenuated vaccines or live virus vaccines contain a weakened version of the actual pathogen. It’s still viable but less effective in causing an infection. This weakened version of the virus allows the immune system to carry out some “training” in order to work effectively if it ever comes across the normal version of the virus.

The conclusion that researchers reached is that since Covid-19 vaccines aren’t attenuated, they do not pose a risk to people who have a compromised immune response.

Some Covid-19 vaccine trials were carried out in African countries known for their high prevalence of HIV. Hence, a number of HIV-positive individuals have been featured in the studies aimed at establishing both the safety and the effectiveness of the new products.

Some of these volunteers experienced mild symptoms after getting vaccinated. In others, the adverse reactions were a bit more pronounced but there weren’t serious consequences.

While some clinical trials did exclude HIV-positive people as a precautionary measure, there is already evidence about the safety of vaccine administration among immune compromised people. In other words, you can rest assured that getting the vaccine if you’re HIV positive and you’re being treated isn’t going to cause you any harm.

Which Vaccine Is Best for HIV-Positive Individuals

The Singaporean Ministry of Health has approved two products for its vaccination programme – the Pfizer BioNTech one and the Moderna vaccine. Currently, CoronaVac has gotten partial approval (as of June 2, 2021).

If we are to examine these two vaccines, which one is better for individuals who are HIV-positive.

Both Pfizer and Moderna recruited HIV-positive individuals in their clinical trials.

The Pfizer studies involved 196 people with HIV while Moderna recruited 176 HIV-positive individuals for its clinical trials.

Of the people recruited by Pfizer, 95 per cent were on antiretroviral therapy, an effective HIV treatment,  and had undetectable viral load at the time of receiving their vaccine. Two doses of the Pfizer vaccine triggered the production of Covid-19 antibodies in 98 per cent of the individuals. Most of the side effects were mild. What’s interesting to point out is that 12 people who had a compromised immune response and a very low CD4 cell count also went ahead to produce Covid-19 antibodies in sufficiently large quantities.

In the Moderna study, one HIV-positive individual that received a placebo went ahead to get Covid-19. None of the vaccinated individuals became ill in the aftermath of receiving their shots. Side effects were experienced by some of the participants in the clinical trial but they were mild.

In other words, both of the vaccines approved for administration in Singapore are both safe and effective for HIV-positive individuals. Chances are that you will do just fine after getting your shots. In addition, your immune system will most likely respond well to the product, building a sufficient volume of antibodies to protect you against a potential Covid-19 infection in the future.

Final Verdict: Getting Vaccinated Is the Smart Thing to Do

Seeing your doctor is the right approach before considering vaccination.

Your treating physician will assess your current condition, answer any questions you may have about getting the shot and recommend the next step in your anti-Covid-19 journey.

What we know so far is that the specific kind of vaccine developed against the coronavirus is not dangerous for people who have a compromised immune system. The shots do not contain a live virus; hence you can rest assured you’re going to be safe.

Also, clinical trials establish good effectiveness. It’s true that the number of HIV-positive participants in studies is fairly small. In time, however, researchers will get to gather more data and solidify those original findings.

If you have questions about being HIV-positive and getting a Covid-19 shot, you can visit a Singapore STD clinic like Shim Clinic. We welcome patients every day of the week and our medical professionals can carry out in-depth, confidential consultations about any issue or topic of interest.