The Importance of Vaccines for People with HIV
Vaccines play an important role in keeping people healthy. They protect you against serious and sometimes deadly diseases.
Vaccines are especially important for people with chronic health conditions like HIV, which can make it harder to fight off vaccine-preventable diseases like pneumococcal disease or the flu. HIV can also make it more likely that you’ll have serious complications from those diseases, which is why getting recommended vaccines is an important part of your overall HIV medical care.
Vaccines are very effective and they don’t just protect individuals from disease. They also protect communities. When most people in a community get immunized against a disease, there is little chance of a disease outbreak. Eventually, the disease becomes rare—and sometimes, it’s wiped out altogether.
What Are Vaccines?
Vaccines protect your body from diseases such as human papillomavirus (HPV), flu, and polio. They are given by needle injection (a shot), by mouth, or sprayed into the nose. The process of getting a vaccine is called immunization.
Vaccines help your immune system fight infections faster and more effectively. When you get a vaccine, it sparks an immune response, helping your body fight off and remember the germ so it can attack it if the germ ever invades again. And since vaccines are made of very small amounts of weak or dead germs, they won’t make you sick.
Vaccines often provide long-lasting immunity to serious diseases without the risk of serious illness. Learn more about how vaccines work .
Which Vaccines are Recommended for People with HIV?
The following vaccines are recommended for people with HIV:
- Hepatitis B
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) (for those up to age 26)
- Influenza (flu)
- Meningococcal series which protects against meningococcal disease
- Pneumococcal (pneumonia)
- Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). A single vaccine protects against the three diseases. Every 10 years, a repeat vaccine against tetanus and diphtheria (called Td) is also recommended
Based on age or other circumstances, you provider may recommend other vaccinations as well.
Talk to your health care provider about which vaccines are recommended for you. For more details, read this information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): HIV Infection and Adult Vaccination.
Are All Types of Vaccines Safe for People Living with HIV?
Vaccines are generally safe for people living with HIV. However, some vaccines may not be recommended. For example, live attenuated vaccines (LAV)—like the chickenpox vaccine—contain a weakened but live form of the germ that causes the disease. LAVs can potentially cause an infection for people living with HIV. However, depending on age, health, previous vaccinations, or other factors, some LAVs may be recommended. Talk to your health care provider about what is recommended for you.
Can HIV Affect How Well a Vaccine Works?
Yes. HIV can weaken your body’s immune response to a vaccine, making the vaccine less effective. In general, vaccines work best when your CD4 count is above 200 copies/mm3.
Also, by stimulating your immune system, vaccines may cause your HIV viral load to increase temporarily.
Do Vaccines Cause Side Effects?
Any vaccine can cause side effects. Side effects from vaccines are generally minor (for example, soreness at the location of an injection or a low-grade fever) and go away within a few days.
Severe reactions to vaccines are rare. Before getting a vaccine, talk to your health care provider about the benefits and risks of the vaccine and possible side effects. Learn about vaccine safety and possible side effects.
What About Travel and Vaccines?
You should be up to date on routine vaccines, no matter where you are going. If you are planning a trip outside the United States, you may need immunizations against diseases that are present in other parts of the world, such as cholera or yellow fever.
If you have HIV, talk to your health care provider about any vaccines you may need before you travel. He or she will know which vaccines are safe for you. Keep in mind: most travel vaccines can be given safely to people with HIV and others with weakened immune systems. However, they may be less effective than in people with strong immune systems, and may not provide full protection. Your doctor may recommend blood tests to confirm that a vaccine was effective, or recommend additional precautions to keep you safe.
Some travel vaccines are LAVs and many people with weakened immune systems should not take them. However, depending on the circumstances, the benefits of protection may outweigh the risks. Talk to your health care provider about what is recommended for you.
To learn more, see Traveling Outside the U.S.
Is There a Vaccine Against HIV?
No. There is currently no vaccine that has been approved by the FDA to prevent HIV infection or treat those who have it. However, scientists are working to develop one. Learn about HIV vaccine research.