Concern over COVID-19 vaccination rates of South Africans living with HIV

COVID-19 vaccination is especially important for immunocompromised individuals, such as people living with HIV.

A new international study by the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has revealed the COVID-19 vaccination rates among people living with HIV around the world.

The researchers say that people living with HIV who are not on ARV treatment and/or have low CD4 T-cell counts face higher risks of developing severe symptoms and dying from COVID-19.

After analysing COVID-19 vaccination rates across the globe among people living with HIV, they found an overall vaccination rate of 55% but with rates varying significantly by location.

Among the 7,770 participants aged 40–75 years in the study, the highest vaccination rate was in the United States (72%), Peru (69%), and Brazil (63%), and lowest in South Africa (18%), Uganda (3%), and Haiti (0%).

Rates were highest in the high-income super region (71%), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (59%), South Asia (49%), Southeast/East Asia (41%), and Sub-Saharan Africa (18%).

“As this is the first report of vaccination rates among a large, international cohort of people living with HIV from diverse Global Burden of Disease regions, these findings inform the field on overall and region-specific vaccination rates,” said Steven Grinspoon, MD, chief of the Metabolism Unit at MGH and senior author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

“Given that the data highlight major inequities in rates across regions, public health officials should use these data to increase efforts to provide access to vaccines for people living with HIV, particularly in those groups vulnerable to COVID-19 morbidity and mortality,” he added.

Grinspoon noted that the findings also highlight disparities in vaccination rates among subgroups of people living with HIV even in high-income regions, and efforts should be intensified to vaccinate people of colour and women.

This all points to the importance of people living with HIV to not only get onto ARV treatment but to also get vaccinated for COVID-19. As of 1 December 2021, booster doses of the vaccine became available to South Africans living with HIV who have low CD4 T-cell counts.

To find your nearest COVID-19 vaccination site, click here. For free and friendly HIV testing, treatment and prevention services for men who have sex with men call/WhatsApp Engage Men’s Health on 082 607 1686.