Positive Life, the only charity in Northern Ireland for people living with HIV, has called for sexual health clinics to be used to administer the Covid vaccine for people living with HIV as the vaccination programme is set to move into its second stage.
Belfast Health & Social Care Trust have begun to issue letters informing people living with HIV that in order to receive a vaccine as a priority group they must inform their GP of their positive status if they have not already done so.
The prospect of having to potentially disclose such confidential and sensitive information to GPs and other staff in local health care settings has left many Positive Life service users feeling anxious. There is a very real fear about having their HIV status exposed to people they might know from the local community receiving or administering the vaccine within GP surgeries.
Sexual health clinics are a well-placed and viable alternative providing a well-established sense of confidentiality. It is from these clinics that people living with HIV already access medication and services. In very many cases, GPs would not be aware of a patient’s status.
Staff at the clinics are also trained to administer vaccinations, providing the HPV vaccine regularly to patients who request it.
Currently around 1200 people are living with HIV in Northern Ireland.
Chief Executive of Positive Life, Jacquie Richardson said:
“GUM clinics are the most appropriate settings to administer the Covid-19 vaccine for people living with HIV. They are a familiar environment and staff understand the issues and fears around sharing a diagnosis.
“We are asking the Department of Health to divert the vaccines intended for people living with HIV towards these clinics where trained and qualified staff can administer them instead.
“Most people living with HIV interact with the GUM clinics on a regular basis to access medication and the services they provide. They know the clinicians and feel safe in this environment.
“This is and continues to be a very anxious and uncertain time for people living with HIV with many experiencing retraumatisation. The arrival of these letters and the thought of being forced to share status is a source of further distress.
“Making this very minor alteration would make a huge amount of difference and put a lot of people at ease.”