Is it safe to get vaccinated if your immune system is compromised by other medical conditions?

Former chair of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, Prof Salim Abdool Karim, has stressed that individuals whose immune systems are compromised by other medical conditions should get vaccinated.

Abdool Karim said it was safe for individuals who have medical conditions such as cancer, HIV, lymphoma, or are undergoing chemotherapy to get vaccinated.

“It is perfectly safe but it’s actually something even more important. It is critically important that individuals who are immunocompromised get vaccinated,” he said.

According to Abdool Karim, individuals who are severely immunocompromised usually don’t respond well to the first dose of the vaccine. He said these individuals have a slightly delayed response to the vaccine and tend to respond well when they get a second dose or booster.

“I would say that every person who is immunocompromised should be scheduling themselves to get vaccinated and they should get vaccinated with their two doses of the Pfizer vaccine or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as soon as possible,” he said.

In SA, these are the two vaccines that are used in the national vaccine rollout programmes.

According to the World Health Organisation, the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines in individuals with HIV is not yet known.

“It is theoretically possible that people living with HIV with low CD4 cell counts might have a weaker immune response to vaccines. However, in practice, this has not been documented for all vaccines and there is no evidence to support a less robust immune response to Covid-19 vaccines among people living with HIV and low CD4 cell counts,”

The organisation said the recommended vaccines such as AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer-BionTech, Sinopharm and Sinovac are safe for people living with HIV.

“The currently available vaccine products are not live vaccines, they include genetic material which cannot replicate. Therefore, these vaccines are not expected to be less safe in people who are immunocompromised. No pharmacological interactions have been reported between Covid-19 vaccines and antiretroviral medications which people living with HIV should continue to take after vaccination to maintain health,” it said.

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