1 Where can I go to find reputable information about the COVID-19 vaccines?
Often information about COVID-19 and the vaccines is presented in jargon and ‘science-speak’. There are a number of trusted websites with accurate information about COVID-19 and the vaccines. To support you to stay informed, below is a short list of reputable websites where you can learn the latest news about COVID-19, details about the variety of COVID-19 vaccines, and other public health advice relating to people living with HIV in NSW.
- NSW Health
- Positive Life NSW
- Australian Dept of Health
- Therapeutic Goods Administration
- World Health Organization
2 Will the vaccine protect against future strains of the COVID-19 virus?
Despite reports of differences in efficacy against new strains of the virus, the COVID-19 vaccines are expected to reduce both severe illness and death from COVID-19. It is therefore important to get whichever TGA approved vaccine you are offered.
As the coronavirus mutates, it is possible that future booster shots may be required. Scientists are working on new vaccines and continue to gather data on the protection provided by our current vaccines as the virus evolves.
COVID-19 vaccines and how they are developed, tested and approved – Australian Dept of Health website
What we know about the COVID-19 virus and its variants – CDC website
SARS-CoV-2 Variants – WHO website
3 Are COVID-19 vaccines safe for people living with HIV?
All vaccines offer the same benefits to people living with HIV as they do for anyone else within the general community. The COVID-19 vaccines under development or approved by regulators are safe for most healthy adults, including people living with HIV.
Before vaccines are approved for use in Australia, they go through a rigorous process of review to ensure they are safe. This review is done by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
People living with HIV are at no greater risk from COVID-19 than anyone else. All people living with HIV can safely take the vaccine when offered it.
COVID-19 Vaccines and HIV – UNAIDS website
4 Are people living with HIV at higher risk of poor health outcomes if diagnosed with COVID-19?
People living with HIV who take antiretroviral treatment and have a CD4 count over 200 cells/µL, who are taking HIV treatment and have an undetectable viral load and no other underlying health conditions, are considered at no greater risk than the general population.
People living with HIV who have underlying health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure appear to be at higher risk of becoming unwell or hospitalisation. This higher risk also applies to the general population with the same underlying health conditions as well.
People living with HIV with a CD4 count below 200 cells/µL, or who are not taking HIV treatment, or who have a detectable viral load may be at higher risk of severe illness.
People living with HIV with a very low CD4 count (below 50 cells/µL) or who have had an opportunistic illness in the last six months should follow isolation practices under their doctor’s instructions and take extra precautions to prevent acquiring COVID-19.
People living with HIV are advised to take the same precautions as the general population:
- wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds, or use a hand gel sanitiser with 60% alcohol
- continue to use physical distancing, that is maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres between you and the next person
- avoid touching your face (mouth, nose and eyes)
- cover your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue or flexed elbow when you cough or sneeze
- stay home and self-isolate from others in the household if you feel unwells
The Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) has recently consolidated the most up to date research about COVID-19 vaccines in regards to people living with HIV.
5 When will people living with HIV be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
People living with HIV who are front line workers or above the age of 80 years received the vaccine in Phase 1a. People living with HIV will receive the vaccine in Phase 1b of the rollout plan. Positive Life NSW encourages you to check with your GP or on the Australian Health Vaccine Eligibility Checker to book your vaccine.
6 Will the COVID-19 vaccine have any negative interactions with my anti-retroviral HIV medication?
People living with HIV have been included in most studies of the COVID-19 vaccine, although their numbers were relatively small. The COVID-19 vaccines have been found to be both effective and safe for most people. At this point we don’t have any long-term data or evidence-base, however what we do know about how the way that the vaccine works suggests that the chance of a negative reaction between the vaccine and any medication is extremely small. Taking anti-retroviral HIV medication is not a reason to delay getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and there is no current evidence to suggest that the vaccine will be any less safe for people living with HIV.
7 Does the COVID-19 vaccine contain live COVID-19 virus?
No. None of the COVID-19 vaccines used in Australia contain a live virus that can cause COVID-19.
While the vaccines include an extremely small amount of genetic material from the virus which causes COVID-19, they are not live and are safe for people living with HIV. You cannot get COVID-19 through the vaccine.
8 What are the potential side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine?
In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) considers information about possible side effects as part of the approval process. Every medicine has potential side effects, and this is normal.
Potential short term side effects include:
- pain or redness at the injection site,
- mild to moderate fever,
- muscle aches,
- and chills.
If these side effects occur, they might be more common after the second dose.
A small number of people may experience more severe side effects, although these are also temporary. After you receive the vaccine, you will be monitored for a short time for any adverse effects.
9 Is the COVID-19 vaccine free if I don’t have Medicare?
Yes. The COVID-19 vaccine is free for everyone in Australia, regardless of citizenship or the visa type.
10 Where can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I’m not eligible for Medicare?
If you’re not eligible for Medicare or don’t hold a Medicare card, you can still get the COVID-19 vaccine free at respiratory clinics and other state-run vaccination clinics. GPs can only give the COVID-19 vaccine to people who hold a Medicare card.
To find out more information about where COVID-19 vaccines are available and how you can make a booking, please visit the vaccine eligibility checker or call the National Coronavirus and COVID-19 Vaccine Helpline on 1800 020 080.
11 Do I still need to have the COVID-19 vaccine, if I’ve already had COVID-19?
Yes. If you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, you are still eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, there is little evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 have immunity from contracting COVID-19 a second time.
Currently, the COVID-19 vaccine will provide you with the best protection against COVID-19.
12 The Australian Government has updated its advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine. What does this mean for me?
The Australian Government has accepted updated advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). ATAGI has recommended that:
- the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine be prioritised for adults aged under 50 years. This is because there is a rare but potentially increased risk of thrombosis (blood clotting) with thrombocytopenia (low blood platelet count) in people aged under 50 years, with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
- the AstraZeneca vaccine be used in adults aged under 50 years, if the benefits outweigh the risks for that person – and they have made an informed decision based on the risks and benefits.
- people who have had the first dose of AstraZeneca without any serious adverse effects, can be given the second dose. This includes people aged under 50 years.
So, what does this mean for people living with HIV?
People living with HIV may wish to have a detailed discussion with their doctor about the risks and benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in line with current health advice, regardless of their age.
If you are 50 years or below and still want the AstraZeneca vaccine, you can make an appointment through the Vaccine Eligibility Checker.
More information about the change to advice regarding the AstraZeneca can be found on the below links.
To discuss your options or if you need further information, please call and speak to the Positive Life Treatments Officer on (02) 9206-2177, 1800 245 677 (freecall outside metro) during business hours or email firstname.lastname@example.org