Why people living with HIV should get Covid-19 vaccine

As of February 5, 13.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines had been administered.

In Summary

•According to the UNAIDs, by mid- 2021, most people living with HIV did not have access to COVID-19 vaccines.

•Every week, around 5000 young women aged 15–24 years become infected with HIV.

A health worker vaccinates an elderly person.
A health worker vaccinates an elderly person.
Image: FILE

Health authorities strongly recommend that everyone living with HIV receive a COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

According to the UNAIDs, by mid- 2021, most people living with HIV did not have access to COVID-19 vaccines. Every week, around 5000 young women aged 15–24 years become infected with HIV.

In sub-Saharan Africa, six in seven new HIV infections among adolescents aged 15–19 years are among girls. Young women aged 15–24 years are twice as likely to be living with HIV than men. Around 4200 adolescent girls and young women aged 15–24 years became infected with HIV every week in 2020.

Women and girls also accounted for 63% of all new HIV infections in 2020.An estimated 1,435,271 Kenyans are living with HIV based on 2021 data released by the National Aids Control Council. 

TheHIV prevalence rate is higher among women and girls aged between 15-49 years —5.5 % compared to 2.9 among men and boys of a similar age. Women and girls aged over 15 years also account for 19,000 out of the estimated 32,000 new infections reported annually. As of  February 5, 13.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines had been administered.

Of these, 6.16million people (11.5 % of the target population) are now fully vaccinated while 7,057,640 (13.5% of the target population)have received their first dose. An additional 183,382 people have received a booster shot.

Even as the government continues to urge people to get vaccinated, misinformation targeting women and vulnerable communities such as people living with HIV continues to spread. Unable to access ant vaccine data that is disaggregated to show vaccine uptake among people living with HIV, Nelly Madegwa has decided to debunk some of the claims being made about the COVID-19 vaccine and this vulnerable group .

CLAIM: Antiretroviral therapy can shield HIV patients from COVID-19.

TRUTH: COVID-19 is not preventable or treatable by HIV medicines. Some HIV medicines are now being researched for possible COVID-19 treatment, but results are not yet available. Other research has found ARVs ineffective. The WHO does not advise modifying HIV medication to prevent or treat COVID-19.

COVID-19 Vaccines are allegedly unsafe for HIV patients.

FACT: The final testing phase included HIV-positive persons and found the vaccines to be safe for people with HIV or impaired immunity because they do not include live vaccines.

CLAIM: HIV-positive people are more susceptible to COVID-19?FACT: An HIV-positive person who is not on treatment or has a high viral load is more likely to contract HIV. The risk increases if such a person has other health problems such as obesity, diabetes, severe asthma, heart or lung problems, stroke, or TB.CLAIM: COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe for HIV patients.

FACT:  The WHO-recommended COVID-19 vaccines contain genetic material from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which cannot replicate. There have been no reports of adverse interactions with ARVs, so people living with HIV should continue to take their medications after vaccination to maintain their health.

CLAIM: HIV-positive people experience more severe and unusual side effects.

FACT: This is still being studied. So far, no evidence suggests that people living with HIV experience more side effects than the general population. Side effects include injection site pain, tiredness, and headache or a short-lived fever.

CLAIM: COVID-19 vaccine will not work if l have a low CD4 countFACT:  People with HIV and other immunocompromised individuals should get vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccine efficacy is thought to be lower in patients with severe immune deficiencies. Booster shots can help protect the immune system.

CLAIM: COVID-19 vaccine increases the risk of getting HIV

FACT: There is no evidence that any of the COVID-19 vaccines make people more likely to get HIV. Adenoviral-vector vaccines that were being tested to prevent HIV 10 years ago may have made people more likely to get HIV. That vaccine was made in a different way than the COVID-19 vaccines.

“This article was produced by the Africa Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with Article 19, Meedan and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).”