null Does the COVID-19 vaccine work for people living with HIV?

RI-MUHC scientist Dr. Cecilia Costiniuk is co-principal investigator in a new national study that hopes to answer critical questions around the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine for people living with HIV

SOURCE: MUHC, with the CTN and CITF. People living with HIV are potentially at increased risk of serious illness if they get infected with COVID-19 and reduced response to COVID-19 vaccination. Some are concerned with the level of protection the vaccine will provide and are looking for answers that are not yet available. A new national study called HIVCOV, conducted by the CIHR Canadian HIV Trials Network (CTN) and a large team of co-investigators and collaborators from across Canada, will assess the immune responses, safety, and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination for this vulnerable population.

Results will help inform vaccination guidelines

Cecilia Costiniuk, MD, M.Sc.
Cecilia Costiniuk, MD, M.Sc.

“At the current time, we don’t completely understand how HIV itself impacts the immune response to COVID-19 vaccination,” explains the CTN’s Cecilia Costiniuk, MD, M.Sc., the study’s co-principal investigator and scientist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre. “Past experience has taught us that many people living with HIV do not have as robust an immune response to many common vaccines when compared to people who do not have HIV infection.”

This has meant that people living with HIV may need higher doses of vaccines, or additional boosters, to get the same protection as others. Studying the immune system of this population after COVID-19 vaccination will help provide guidance on dosing strategies as well as public health and clinical practice guidelines for the 67,000 Canadians living with HIV.

The HIVCOV team will recruit 400 people living with HIV from clinics in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver. Over the year-long study period, their blood samples will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies and other markers of immune function before and after vaccination. This information will be compared to a control group of 100 people who do not have HIV.

Focus on the most vulnerable subgroups

The researchers will focus on studying older patients, those who have suppressed levels of the white blood cells that fight infection, and people with multiple medical conditions.

The CTN’s Dr. Curtis Cooper, also a co-principal investigator on this study and scientist with The Ottawa Hospital, says, “Small numbers of people living with HIV who are in stable health and with no other medical conditions have been included in previous clinical trials for the vaccines. But that information is not applicable to the most vulnerable subpopulations, which we will be addressing in this study.”

HIVCOV is part of a larger $2.6 million project — COVAXHIV — funded in large part by the Government of Canada through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) and Vaccine Surveillance Reference Group. Additional support has been provided by the CTN, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and Stop the Spread Ottawa.

To learn more on the HIVCOV study and COVAXHIV, read the CTN web story and CITF news release.

June 16, 2021