Some protection is better than none: Thai PLHIV speaking on getting vaccinated

Feature image: REUTERS / Athit Perawongmetha

Wattana Keiangpa
/ Kasintorn Honglawan

Currently, Thailand has only 2 options for vaccines, the first is coronaVac and second is Oxford-Astrazeneca. CoronaVac is developed by a private Chinese company called Sinovac, the technology they used is using a dead SARS-CoV2 virus and injecting it into the body so that the immune system could learn how to defend the body from future attack from the same virus. Since the virus is already dead, it is safe for everyone and including people living with HIV. The efficacy rate in preventing infection is not fully understand, with Brazil biggest late-stage trial put the efficacy rate only 50.4%, but with latest release of new data from Indonesia show a more promising results of having 0 death, 4% hospitalization rate and 94% efficacy in against infection, though it is unclear if the workers were screened for asymptomatic carriers.

The second brand that Thailand will receive in June is Oxford-Astrazeneca. The technology it uses is having double-stranded DNA of the SARS-CoV2 virus and added into another weakened virus called adenovirus which are common viruses that cause cold or flu. When it enters our body, it could not replicate, it only deliver the SARS-CoV2 virus for the immune system to detect and prepare for future attack from the same virus. The study shows that the vaccine is safe for everyone including people living with HIV, but not not recommended for those under the age of 30. The efficacy rate is 76% against symptomatic COVID-19, 100% against severe symptoms, death, and hospitalizations.

Next month, Thailand will ramp up its vaccination rates with a new batch of Oxford-AstraZenecaa vaccines which will be produced domestically. However, there are still concerns within the community about the side effects of having the vaccine, especially for People Living with HIV (PLHIV). We interviewed a 55-year-old gay man living with HIV, and a 33-year-old gay man living with HIV about their experiences of getting vaccinated. The vaccine that was given was Sinovac.

Aek – 55 year old PLHIV

Aek is a gay man and living with HIV since 1992. At that time, to be HIV positive means a death sentence. He then  dedicated his “new life” to do charity work for the PLHIV community. He first worked in a club at the Thai Red Cross Anonymous Clinic but while working he noticed that on the weekends there are no HIV services for the PLHIV community to go to. Thus, in 2005 he founded The Poz Home Center Foundation. It is now the longest-standing civil society organisation in Bangkok that provide quality care and supporting services to PLHIV gay men, MSM, transgender and their families.

Did you have any concerns about the vaccination?

I was not worried at all. We have to be selective in what we see in the news, because there is fake news too, and we have to screen what is true and what is not. After going through a lot of information, I became less worried and decided to get vaccinated, as I have some protection, even at 50% is better than none.

From my research, the vaccines do not affect people living with HIV negatively, what does affect the vaccine have effect on is the seven chronic diseases that the Thai Department of Disease Control have announced. Vaccination could decrease the severity of getting COVID-19, reduce hospitalisation and death. Another thing is that the side effects occurring are one in a million.

I tell my community that if you get a chance to get the vaccine, please take it, as we all know, the vaccine is still scarce in Thailand and it needs to be easily accessible. Having protection is better than nothing, since there is still a high risk of getting Covid-19 as Thailand is going through a third wave.

I was worried that as I am older, I might experience side effects, but I didn’t have any side effects at all. 

Top – 33-year-old PLHIV

Top has been living with HIV for two years. After knowing that he is HIV positive status, he decide to dedicate his life in helping and serving the people in the community by working in a community-based organization, The Poz Home Center, and also working for a hospital in the Bangna area of Bangkok. He gives consultation to PLHIV that suffer from mental illness and cares for people who are going through the first phase of knowing their HIV status. He also provides administrative work at the ARV clinic in the hospital.

Tell us about your vaccine experience?

At first, I didn’t know if I was going to get one, as the number of available vaccines in Thailand is still low. One day, the head nurse whom I am working with, came to me and told me to get the vaccine. I was a bit worried because eight nurses in the hospital that I am working at got blood clots after being vaccinated, but my worries were gone, since there are anticoagulants that can cure the symptom.

I did feel a bit feverish after being vaccinated, but after two hours it was gone.

As a person living with HIV, it is important to get vaccinated as since our immune system is compromised by HIV, having vaccination will guarantee us that we won’t get severely ill and be hospitalised.

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