People With HIV Face Higher Risk Of Breakthrough Covid, Study Says


Vaccinated people with HIV face a 28% higher risk of contracting breakthrough Covid-19 infections than people without HIV, according to a study published Tuesday by JAMA Network Open that argued those with HIV should be a high-priority group for vaccine booster shots.

Key Facts

The risk of Covid-19 infection was 3.5% among fully vaccinated people without HIV and 4.4% among fully vaccinated people with HIV, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, University of Calgary and other institutions who looked at data from over 100,000 vaccinated American adults with and without HIV gathered last year.

Younger people with HIV were at particularly high risk of getting a breakthrough infection: People with HIV ages 55 and older were less likely to experience breakthrough Covid-19 than people under the age of 55, while people ages 43 and younger were more likely to contract a breakthrough infection compared to older people, researchers found.

Breakthrough Covid-19 cases spiked among the study’s participants at the same time infection rates surged among the general U.S. population, researchers said.

Researchers found no link between Covid-19 breakthrough risk and HIV viral suppression treatments, which some people with HIV use to reduce symptoms and risk of transmitting the virus.

The study’s authors said all people with HIV should be eligible for additional Covid-19 vaccine shots—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently only recommends multiple booster shots for people with severe or untreated HIV.


The conclusiveness of the study was limited because the sample group of patients was 92% male, a greater proportion of men than in the general U.S. population of people with HIV.

Key Background

All Covid-19 vaccines currently approved in the U.S. are safe for people with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though a Lancet study published in April said at least four other vaccines under development could leave people more vulnerable to HIV infection. A February CDC study found that, in New York City, people diagnosed with HIV were 11.5% less likely to be vaccinated against Covid-19 compared to the city’s general adult population, putting people with HIV at greater risk of potentially severe Covid-19 infections.

Big Number

1.19 million. That’s how many people age 13 and older had HIV in the U.S. at the end of 2019, according to the CDC. Of those people, about 158,500, or 13%, had undiagnosed infections, the agency said.


HIV—the human immunodeficiency virus—weakens a person’s immune system, making them vulnerable to potentially severe infections by diseases that the body would normally be able to fight off. Though a cure for HIV has not yet been developed, treatments can often allow people with HIV to live free of severe symptoms or of the risk of passing on the virus to others.

Further Reading

“Researchers Warn Some Covid-19 Vaccines Could Increase Risk Of HIV Infection” (Forbes)

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