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What People With HIV Should Know About Getting a Second COVID-19 Booster Shot

Posted on August 04, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Robert Hurd, M.D.
Article written by
Manuel Penton, M.D.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has approved a second COVID-19 booster shot of the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines for people over 50 years old and those who are immunocompromised.
  • Recent studies found that most people who were immunocompromised had a strong immune response to mRNA vaccines for COVID-19.
  • People with HIV are encouraged to stay on schedule with their vaccinations, including getting booster doses, according to the HIV Medicine Association.

The CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have authorized and recommended a second booster shot for people over 50 and individuals with immunocompromising conditions.

“CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccination for people with HIV, except for those with a condition that excludes them from vaccination,” according to the HIV Medicine Association. “Everyone is encouraged to stay up-to-date on their vaccines by following the latest recommendations for supplemental doses for individuals who are immunocompromised and booster doses for everyone 12 and older.”

The New Recommendations

Some important details about these recommendations include the following:

  • This booster is for people who received their first booster at least four months ago.
  • This fourth shot would be of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, not the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
  • Even if you were previously vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it is now recommended that this next dose be a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine only.
  • For those who are immunocompromised and received a three-dose primary vaccination followed by an initial booster, this additional booster counts as a fifth shot.

What To Know About Booster Shots if You Have HIV

According to HIV.gov, “COVID-19 vaccines are recommended for everyone who is eligible, including people with HIV, regardless of their CD4 count or viral load. The number of vaccine doses you need depends on the type of vaccine you receive.”

The CDC’s list of underlying medical conditions explicitly lists HIV among the conditions that put people at higher risk of severe illness if they get COVID-19. Talk with your doctor if you have questions about your eligibility for an additional COVID-19 vaccine dose.

“Second booster shot today,” wrote one myHIVteam member. Another member wrote, “I got the second booster and didn’t even notice that I was jabbed.”

Why Booster Shots Matter

Vaccinations work by spurring a person’s immune system to produce antibodies, which are proteins that help destroy a target. Research indicates that, after an initial COVID-19 vaccination, a person’s antibody levels against the SARS-CoV-2 virus — which causes COVID-19 — are likely to decrease over time. Therefore, getting booster doses at recommended intervals is necessary — even for vaccinated people who made antibodies after their initial shots.

Simply making antibodies does not always translate to complete immunity from COVID-19 infection. The findings from recent studies, however, are promising. In one study of immunocompromised people with cancer, researchers tested levels of antibodies — specifically those made in response to the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

On average, researchers identified antibodies against the coronavirus in about 90 percent of the study’s 515 participants after the second vaccine dose. These results are considered a good sign that vaccines using mRNA — which include those by Moderna and Pfizer — for COVID-19 can trigger strong responses, even from people with compromised immune systems. It’s evidence that vaccines can protect people at higher risk of severe infections.

Although only a small number of clinical trials have evaluated how people diagnosed with HIV respond to COVID-19 vaccinations, researchers say the outcomes indicate that these vaccinations are both safe and effective in affording protection to HIV/AIDS patients. In addition, the World Health Organization reminds people living with HIV that the currently available COVID-19 vaccines do not carry live virus and therefore “are not expected to be less safe in people who are immunocompromised.”

According to the CDC, getting vaccinated is still the best way to protect yourself and slow the spread of the virus. If you are unvaccinated due to immunodeficiency, an autoimmune disease, or cancer treatment or because you are an organ transplant recipient, this new research should give you confidence to speak with your health care provider about when a COVID-19 vaccine would be right for you.

Find Your Team

On myHIVteam, the social support network for people with HIV and their loved ones, members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand.

Are you considering getting a second booster shot? Have you discussed any concerns with your health care provider? Share your insights in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Robert Hurd, M.D. is a professor of endocrinology and health care ethics at Xavier University. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Manuel Penton, M.D. is a medical editor at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about him here.

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