PEOPLE living with HIV (PLHIV) who have a low CD4 count and an uncontrolled viral load have been urged to defer getting vaccinated against COVID-19 until after discussing with medical practitioners, a medical and HIV expert has said.
By Michael Gwarisa
CD4 cells are white blood cells that fight infection and the CD4 count is a measure of how healthy one’s immune system is when living with HIV. People Living with HIV have been listed amongst high-risk populations in the country and have also been afforded priority status under the ongoing national vaccination drive.
Speaking during a National Aids Council panel on COVID-19 and what the Media needs to know about COVID-19 Vaccines, Dr Leslie Bidi, the technical specialist quality of care at the Population Services International (PSI) said even though persons with compromised immunity were at high risk of severe COVID-19 infection, it was important to do a risk benefit ration before making a decision.
We also have people who have severe immune suppression like those who are unwell, bedridden and frail, its best to avoid the vaccination. It’s important that you talk to healthcare practitioners and you discuss the pros and cons and decide what is the best time to be vaccinated.
“For those who are HIV positive and on Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) and the immunity is virally suppressed and adhering to their treatment. These ones can be vaccinated. But if someone is severely immune suppressed and you have uncontrolled viral load or your CD4 Count is low, its best to defer but you don’t defer by yourself, you discuss that with your health practitioner,” said Dr Bidi.
He added that majority of people in Zimbabwe were eligible to get vaccinated even though there are a few exceptions.
“If you notice from the way they have rolled out the vaccine in the country. The frontline workers, those who are at risk for example healthcare workers, people who mix with a lot people among others. But now, we are in phase two where we have extended the vaccination to vulnerable populations, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses.
“So, a lot of people who are above 18 years are eligible for the vaccination. There are a few exceptions though. For example, people who may be allergic to components of the vaccine or are allergic to the vaccines themselves based on the first dose for example, they should not be vaccinated. We have concerns from pregnant people for example. Pregnant people may be vaccinated, the data is still coming to see whether its safe to get them vaccinated. If someone is pregnant and they are frontline worker and they are at risk the benefits of being vaccinated far outweigh those of not being vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Dr Takunda Sola who is the Regional Program Manager for Population Services International (PSI) urged PLHIV and with disabilities to religiously adhere to their treatment and ensure they are virally suppressed in order to give them a fighting change in the face of COVID-19.
“The mode of transmission for COVID-19 is manly spread by aerosols and the spread by the respiratory system essentially. With regards to whether somebody who is HIV positive has already been initiated on ART, and they are virally load suppressed, you find that if I am a person with a disability, I am HIV positive, however I am taking my ARVs and my viral load is undetectable and my CD4 count is high, it will be comparable to an HIV negative individual without any disability.
“But If I am a person with a disability and I discovered recently that I am HIV positive. My viral load is still very high, I may potentially have stage 3 or 4 illnesses what it means is that I am likely to be at a greater risk of suffering from complication of COVID-19 more than the next person who is HIV negative, Dr Sola said.”