What people living with HIV need to know about COVID-19 vaccines

March 10, 2021

Update: On March 17, 2021, the City of Chicago announced anyone 16 and older who is living with HIV will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines after Monday, March 29. The supply of vaccines will remain limited, and it may be challenging for people living with HIV to get an appointment. AFC recommends that people who are eligible contact their primary care provider if they have one. Residents can also schedule an appointment on Zocdoc, the website the city uses to schedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments. 

For more information, visit Vaccine Distribution Phases (scroll down to “Definitions for Phase 1C Groups”).


What are the three COVID-19 vaccines that are available in the United States?

The three vaccines that are available include one from Moderna, one from Pfizer, and one from Johnson & Johnson. Each have been approved through an FDA process called Emergency Use Authorization, and each are highly effective at reducing serious illness due to COVID-19. All three vaccines have been proven to prevent hospitalization and death.


What is an Emergency Use Authorization?

Emergency use authorizations (EUA) are an important mechanism the FDA can utilize when there is a public health emergency, like the COVID-19 pandemic. In the face of a deadly crisis, the EUA process allows life-saving medications and treatments to be approved for use quickly. Early AIDS activists demanded expedited access to treatments as they watched their comrades die every day. A direct legacy of this historical activism is the EUA which has allowed each of the COVID-19 vaccines to be made available to the population in record time while making sure they are extremely safe.


Are COVID-19 vaccines effective? What do they prevent?

The vaccines for COVID-19 are extremely effective at preventing serious illness. It is important to understand that we do not yet know if the vaccines actually prevent infection from happening, or if they prevent transmission. But we do know the vaccines keep people from getting seriously sick, they keep them out of the hospital, and they save lives.


Were people living with HIV included in clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccines?

Yes, hundreds of people living with HIV participated in the tests of COVID-19 vaccines. They were required to be taking HIV medications and have undetectable viral loads.


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

The safety of COVID-19 vaccines is a top priority. No steps were skipped during the rigorous and highly regulated development process. All COVID-19 vaccines were thoroughly reviewed and approved for emergency use by the U.S. FDA. While we don’t have detailed safety data yet from the clinical trials specifically about people with HIV, we don’t anticipate any safety issues unique to this group of people. You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccines.


Should people with HIV consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

The short answer is, yes! The vaccines work exceptionally well at preventing people from getting really sick from COVID-19 infection. Scientific evidence suggests that people living with HIV who are on successful HIV treatment are not at risk of serious illness from COVID-19. However, many people living with HIV have other medical conditions and life situations that make them more vulnerable to serious illness from the virus compared to the general population. People living with HIV can take the COVID-19 vaccine, no matter what their viral load or CD4 count.


Will the COVID-19 vaccine mess with my HIV medications?

No, your HIV medications will not be affected by the vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccines have no interactions with HIV medications. People with HIV should keep taking their HIV medicines when they receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Stopping your HIV medications could put you at greater risk for HIV-related illnesses and at greater risk for serious infection due to COVID-19.


Are there side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines?

Yes, it is common for people to have soreness and swelling at the site of injection, and many people may experience mild fevers, fatigue, and aches. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that your immune system is responding. The symptoms may be unpleasant for a day or two, but they go away. You may want to plan your schedule accordingly, to allow some down time to help you feel better.  While these side effects are common, not all people will experience them in the same way, and some people may not experience them at all.


Are there any people who should not get the COVID-19 vaccine?

According to CDC, individuals should not get the vaccine if they have a condition that might exclude them, such as a known allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine or its ingredients. This is a very small number of people. No one has died from taking the vaccine, but huge numbers of people have died from COVID-19, and many others have experienced serious and sometimes long-lasting illness.


What if I have questions?

If you have questions, talk to your health care provider for more information.


This fact sheet is based in part on HIVMA’s fact sheet, COVID-19 Vaccines and People with HIV Frequently Asked Questions, January 26, 2021. 

Categorized under Inside Story.

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