GMHC stands with leadership of local, state, and national HIV/AIDS service organizations in appealing to public health authorities in prioritizing people living with HIV/AIDS for access to COVID-19 vaccines. In December 2020, GMHC co-signed a letter—with other leading organizations—to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee requesting that people living with HIV/AIDS be prioritized for vaccination. Today, we call on the State of New York and the City of New York City to include this population with other high-risk groups that are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination under Phase 1b.
A recent study in New York State showed that people living with HIV/AIDS are more frequently diagnosed with COVID-19 and more likely to be hospitalized and die as a result of the infection. The CDC has also found increasing evidence that some racial and ethnic minority groups remain disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due to racism, stigma, poverty, lack of access to quality healthcare and education, unstable housing, and other social determinants of health. These factors also put Black and Latinx people at higher risk of HIV infection.
People living with HIV/AIDS can have weakened immune systems (shown by a low CD4 count) or be immunocompromised, which can put them at higher risks of other infections such as COVID-19. Studies have shown that people ages 50 years and older living with HIV/AIDS also exhibit higher rates of illnesses associated with aging.
“To reduce hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, it is imperative that our public health officials identify HIV as a risk factor for COVID infection and prioritize people living with HIV/AIDS for COVID-19 vaccines,” said GMHC CEO Kelsey Louie. “People living with HIV/AIDS should be vaccinated sooner rather than later to protect this too often overlooked population.”
GMHC serves approximately 10,000 clients in New York City with comprehensive psychosocial and prevention services, including: HIV/STI testing, meals and nutrition, supportive housing, advocacy for benefits and health insurance, mental health and substance use counseling, and more. GMHC’s programs have made substantial contributions to reducing new HIV infections and ensuring people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are connected to care and treatment.