For some living with HIV, old wounds have reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic, explained Perry N. Halkitis, PhD, MS, MPH, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health and director of the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies.
For some living with HIV, especially those who survived the 80s and early 90s before there were effective medications, old wounds have reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic, explained Perry N. Halkitis, PhD, MS, MPH, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health and director of the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies.
This video excerpt is part of our third entry in a series on individuals and international organizations working to bring local and global awareness to the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic, which is marking its 40th anniversary this year. For our first video with Dr Halkitis, click here.
Can you tell us about your study that is investigating why persons living with HIV may not want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine?
It's a work in progress. I think that we tend to think of populations as monolithic, that they're all the same. We have a bunch of different studies around COVID-19 and HIV. One of the studies, the Chronicle study, is looking at what the experience of people living with HIV has been throughout the last year in terms of their care and their access to care and their medications. And now we've launched this vaccination study, because the notion is, just because somebody is positive doesn't mean that they're going to be amenable to taking the vaccine and that not every HIV-positive person is identical.
There's a 30-year-old, there's a 60-year-old, there's a White person, there's a Latinx person, there's a male-identified person, there’s a female-identified person. These are intersectional identities that people have. And so the same sort of hesitation that we see in the population, around the vaccine in certain segments of the population, is also going to be true in the HIV-positive population.
It's really, really, really fascinating to watch, the whole manifestation of COVID-19 in people living with HIV, because for some people living with HIV, this has been a retraumatization of something that happened before. For people who lived through the 80s and the early 90s, before there were effective medications, this has just opened up all those wounds again. For others, it's a new wound.
Nonetheless, it is a complicated situation and we don't know what the medical implications are, let alone what the psychological and social implications are, for people living with HIV around COVID.
Are there different reasons for vaccine hesitancy in HIV-positive persons vs the general population?
When people ask me questions about vaccine hesitancy, I'm like, what do you mean? Vaccine hesitancy is like 100 different things, right? So if I'm thinking about the 85 year old grandma in Newark who's African American, who has encountered awful, awful, awful conditions with the medical profession and is knowledgeable of the history of the African American population with regard to the medical profession, that's going to be different than somebody who is a White right-wing man from Bedminster, New Jersey.
I use that as an example because I think within the positive population also, there probably is going to be less hesitancy, only because positive people already are so used to taking care of their health, so they are getting vaccinated for lots of other things, like HPV [human papillomavirus] and pneumonia and what have you. So if there is any hesitation, it might have to do with fear that the vaccine is not well enough tested and that it's going to complicate their already complicated immune system.