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The Covid vaccine is safe
The existing vaccines against Covid-19 are safe for people living with HIV, according to a statement from UNAIDS. Norwegian doctors support this view, and emphasise that any person with a compromised immune system or other comorbidity should be prioritised for vaccination.
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According to UNAIDS, the Covid-19 vaccines are safe for the vast majority of groups, including people living with HIV.
The vaccines contain fragments of genetic material from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19 disease. The vaccine stimulates the body’s immune response to produce antibodies against the virus. None of the vaccines currently under development or in use contain living viral matter, and will therefore be safe even for those with a diminished immune system. Thus, the vaccines are safe for persons living with HIV, even if they have immune deficiency.
After vaccination it is normal to experience some side effects. This is common for all regular vaccines. These side effects may include a sore arm, headaches or a mild fever. There is a very small risk of an allergic reaction, which is why you must wait 15-20 minutes in the presence of qualified personnel after receiving the shot. This goes for all vaccines, and is not specific to the Covid-19 vaccine. It is also general practice for all persons, and living with HIV does not affect your risk for experiencing side effects.
Should persons living with HIV get vaccinated?
People living with HIV will have all the same benefits from the vaccine as those not living with HIV. The vaccine prevents serious illness if you should become infected with the corona virus, and may also help prevent spreading the virus. This last point is somewhat uncertain, and thus it is still recommended that even those already vaccinated follow the preventative measures we have all become used to: wash your hands, keep physical distance to others and stay at home if you feel ill.
Immune deficiency and comorbidity
In a statement to HivNorway, the out-patient clinic for infectious diseases at Ullevål hospital inform us that they consider HIV patients (as a group) to have the risk factor «compromised immune system» with a higher risk for serious Cvid-19 disease. But in practice, only those living with HIV who have a CD4 count less than 350/µL, a viral load greater than 50 copies per mL andother extant comorbidity that are actually at high risk and thus should be prioritised for vaccination.
Modern HIV treatments ensure that the great majority of people living with HIV in Norway and are receiving treatment, have an undetectable viral load. This means that only those with immune deficiency, i.e. having a CD4 count of less than 350/µL and a detectable viral load, and other extant comorbidities, are at greater risk of serious Covid-19 disease. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health includes people living with HIV and who have low CD4 counts in the risk group for becoming seriously ill with covid-19 and recommends that vaccination should be considered.
Any person living with HIV who is on successful treatment, is not under any elevated risk of Covid-19 disease.
Both the Comirnaty-vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech, the Moderna-vaccine, AstraZeneca-vaccine and the vaccine from Janssen (Johnson and Johnson) are safe for people with immune deficiency.
General practitioners prioritise
The responsibility for Covid-19 vaccination lies with the primary health care services, and is not taken care of by the hospital clinics for infectious diseases. General practitioners («fastlege») set the priorities for vaccination of their patients, and it is therefore important that you inform your G.P. of your HIV status to receive the correct priority. Ullevål hospital has recommended to all HIV patients since 2012 that they inform their G.P. about their HIV status, so that the G.P. can be kept regularly informed about their patients’ CD4 levels and viral loads. This information is also available to the patient via the web service helsenorge.no
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