The science of COVID-19: HIV and COVID-19

You can be infected by breathing in the virus if you are within close proximity of someone who has COVID-19, or by touching a contaminated surface and then your eyes, nose or mouth.
To date more than 100 Million people have been infected worldwide and more than 2.2 Million people have died from this disease.

COVID-19 and HIV
We are still learning about COVID-19 and how it affects people with HIV. Based on what we know so far, we believe that people with HIV who are on effective treatment have the same risk for COVID-19 as people who do not have HIV.
Older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions including diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease or obesity might be at increased risk of severe illness. Chronic smokers are also at risk for more severe disease.
People living with HIV who are either not on treatment or are not adhering to their treatment regimen have a compromised immune system and are therefore at risk of having severe disease should they be infected with SARS CoV2 virus.
This includes people with a:
Low CD4 count (<350 cells),
High viral load (>1000c/ul)
And/or a recent opportunistic infection (eg: Pulmonary Tuberculosis).
People living with HIV who are not on treatment or failing their current treatment regimen, are also more susceptible to respiratory tract infections. For this reason, it is important for HIV+ patients to remain on their medication as prescribed by their healthcare provider.
Similarily to the general population, older people with HIV who have other underlying health conditions should adhere to the prescribed treatment regimens for those conditions.

Being Prepared For COVID-19
COVID-19 Vaccines
Many new vaccines have been developed to help stop the spread of this pandemic. In December 2020 several countries started giving emergency approval for the vaccines to be used. We are also hopeful that we will soon start offering vaccines to everyone.
The vaccines which have been approved for use are all considered safe for people living with HIV. To be approved, vaccines must pass multiple safety trials, and be reviewed by national regulators to ensure they are both safe and effective. Several of the COVID-19 vaccine trials included people living with HIV.
As with the general population, for people living with HIV, the vaccines help your body to develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19 – so you are able to fight it off if exposed
Even after being vaccinated, it is important to continue to take steps to prevent COVID-19 transmission until cases of the virus have fallen to a safe level.

Key Points:
• People living with HIV and on effective antiretroviral treatment (ART) do not appear to be at greater risk of getting COVID-19.
• Our understanding of the risk of developing severe COVID-19 in people living with HIV is evolving. Current evidence suggests that HIV is less of a risk factor for severe COVID-19 than other health conditions.
• People living with HIV not on treatment or virally suppressed may be at a greater risk. Speak to a healthcare professional for more information on how to stay healthy.
• As with the general population, older people living with HIV and those with other underlying health conditions should take extra precautions to prevent illness.
• Try to have at least a 30 days’ supply of ART in your home. If possible, ask for three months.
• The current COVID-19 vaccines are believed to be safe for people living with HIV.
• We are continuing to learn about COVID-19. Remember to keep in touch with your healthcare provider and follow government advice.

Article submitted as part of the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 public information and education programme