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Op-Ed

Simplify COVID-19 vaccination of people with HIV; provide in hubs (there, I simplified it for you!)

You want a simplified solution here? Offer COVID-19 vaccines for PLHIVs in their treatment facilities. Tapos! If drafting detailed guidelines may feel “tedious”, be commonsensical. The solution is staring you in the face.

Photo by Hakan Nural from Unsplash.com

So in the City of Manila now (among other local government units), COVID-19 vaccines are already being given to “persons with comorbidities” – meaning, people with health conditions that put them at higher risk to get infected with COVID-19, and if they are infected, they may not survive it because of pre-existing health conditions. In the rollout of vaccines, they are third in line (after healthcare workers, and seniors).

People living with HIV (PLHIV) are among those with comorbidities.

Let me cite some issues here.

Firstly, PLHIVs can’t just “go” to these vaccination places and disclose their HIV status. Note that NOT A SINGLE LGU has released a policy regarding PLHIV vaccination – e.g. if we go to a vaccination place in some barangay, we don’t know who gets/handles our data, who they disclose to, and so on. We’re basically being forced to out ourselves; a violation of the law of the land.

Secondly, yes, the government’s response regarding this has been slow. Over a year has passed since the lockdowns were started, and – get this – we still do not have proper guidelines regarding vaccination of persons with comorbidities. In early March, for example, we reported that – UNTIL NOW – the DOH doesn’t seem to know how to ensure that PLHIVs are ALSO vaccinated. Let me stress here: We need CLEAR, SPECIFIC guidelines; and we still don’t have these.

Thirdly, there are “positions” being floated. For instance, that PLHIVs should get CD4 test six months before getting vaccinated to ensure they have high CD4 count. Or for PLHIVs to get medical clearance from their treatment facilities. And so on. But these “recommendations” are ignorant, and ignore realities of PLHIVs. For example, there are treatment facilities that do not (regularly) offer CD4 tests anymore (for example, RITM). And then most treatment facilities are closed due to the pandemic; so how can PLHIVs visit their doctors for clearances? Don’t get me started with metro-centric “teleconsultations”, as if those are offered by facilities outside of metropolitan areas!

You want a simplified solution here?

Offer COVID-19 vaccines for PLHIVs in their treatment facilities. Tapos!

If drafting detailed guidelines may feel “tedious”, be commonsensical. The solution is staring you in the face.

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Cagayan de Oro City-based Stephen Christian Quilacio may be known as a party-goer (and yes, there's nothing wrong with that!). But this Bachelor of Architecture grad is serious when it comes to LGBTQIA and HIV advocacies - e.g. he founded Northern Mindanao AIDS Advocates (NorMAA) to mainstream the issues of people living with HIV in Mindanao; and produced "Lima" and eventually "Red Lives" via community theater to share HIV-centric stories particularly to grassroots community. Pushing for fringe communities to no longer be excluded is what drives Stephen; and "if this can be done in a fun way, so much the better," he smiled.

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