Image: From left: Dr Rosmond Adams, Director, PANCAP, Dr Shanti Singh-Anthony, Coordinator, Knowledge Management, PANCAP Coordinating Unit, Dr Tariq Jagnarine, National AIDS Programme Manager, Guyana and Dr Ayanna Sebro, Technical Director, National AIDS Coordinating Committee Secretariat (NACC), Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
PANCAP facilitated a virtual discussion with People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in Guyana and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to foster an improved understanding of the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines.
The discussion was chaired by Dr Shanti Singh-Anthony, Coordinator, Knowledge Management, PANCAP Coordinating Unit, with support from Dr Tariq Jagnarine, National AIDS Programme Manager, Guyana and Dr Ayanna Sebro, Technical Director, National AIDS Coordinating Committee Secretariat (NACC), Trinidad and Tobago.
In opening remarks, Dr Singh-Anthony highlighted that despite the large volume of information available on COVID-19, it was important for PLHIV to hear experiences from their peers who received the vaccine. She emphasized the importance of sharing first-hand experiences to increase the acceptance of the vaccine among PLHIV.
The Knowledge Coordinator referred to data provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that indicated that the COVID-19 vaccines approved by regulators are safe for everyone, including PLHIV and that there is no reason why PLHIV should not take the vaccines when offered.
Dr Singh-Anthony further explained that before vaccines are licensed for scale-up, national regulators review the data and ensure they are safe. No data have emerged to cause worry that PLHIV are at any greater risk from the COVID-19 vaccines than anyone else. She further highlighted that the Region has surveillance systems in place to ensure that rare but serious adverse events are reported to the public health authorities and the manufacturers of the vaccines.
In remarks, Dr Rosmond Adams, Director, PANCAP, emphasized the importance of dialogue on the COVID-19 vaccine within the community of People Living with and affected by HIV, especially with regard to the harmful repercussions of “fake news” and misinformation about the vaccines. He referred to the current data from WHO, which underlined the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and urged PLHIV to continue to promote vaccination and other COVID-19 public health precautions.
The Guyana team shared their experiences with accessing the COVID-19 vaccines; participants shared their fears and how these were overcome by seeking advice from healthcare professionals. They also highlighted the importance of following the science and WHO guidance on the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines.
The Guyana team also highlighted that there were no severe adverse effects from the vaccine among the group of PLHIV that shared their experiences. Mild reactions reported included minor pain around the injection site and mild fever, which the WHO has listed as expected side-effects from the COVID-19 vaccine.
Members of the Trinidad Team shared their experiences, including a detailed description of the process involved in receiving the vaccines at health centres. Participants from Trinidad also echoed the sentiments of Dr Adams, providing first-hand accounts of being exposed to large volumes of misinformation shared on social media and instant messaging platforms. The team reiterated the importance of seeking information on the vaccines from trusted sources, including the Ministry of Health and PAHO/WHO.
Dr Sebro concluded the discussion by underscoring the importance of continued dialogue among PLHIV on the COVID-19 vaccines. She explained that the virtual dialogue is the first of many initiatives planned by NACC to increase the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccines among PLHIV in Trinidad and Tobago.
In addition, PANCAP will host a webinar, “COVID-19 Vaccines and PLHIV”, on Friday 18 June. A video series highlighting the safety and efficacy of the vaccines among PLHIV will also premiere on all PANCAP digital platforms.