HIV/COVID Letter to Governor Cuomo Gets Results

Amida Care joined the long list of signatories to the End AIDS NY Community Coalition’s January 26, 2021 letter to Governor Cuomo urging him to include HIV infection in the New York State criteria to define “immunocompromised” for determining priority for access to COVID-19 vaccination.

The letter was signed by thirty-eight organizations, including in addition to Amida Care, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the American Academy of HIV Medicine, Diaspora Community Services, Harlem United, Hispanic Health Network, Housing Works, National Black Leadership Commission on Health, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Treatment Action Group (TAG), and Let’s Kick ASS NY.

The letter pointed out that New York’s “Phase 1B” schedule for vaccinations prior-itize “people over 65 and those who are immunocompromised,” in line with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) guidance. However, they noted, New York State had not yet defined which conditions fit the criteria for “immunocompromised” or “at increased risk.” According to the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), people with HIV (PLHIV) in New York have experienced significantly higher rates of COVID-related hospitalization and mortality than the general population. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has classified people with HIV among those who may be at increased risk from COVID-19; however, the letter’s authors asserted, that determination was made on limited evidence and before the NYS DOH and NYC DOH studies determined that PLHIV are definitely at increased risk due to COVID-19 and should be prioritized for vaccine access in NYS’ Phase 1B.

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The authors pointed out that the researchers who conducted these New York analyses call for continued, rigorous exploration of COVID-19 outcomes among PLHIV compared with people without HIV to understand what factors may be contributing to worse clinical outcomes, including increased COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates for PLHIV, requiring a public health response. They noted further that higher rates of mortality among PLHIV have been reported in the Western Cape of South Africa and in the United Kingdom.

On February 5, 2021, Governor Cuomo announced a new list of comorbidities that qualify patients for the coronavirus vaccine, including “Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) including but not limited to solid organ trans-plant or from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corti-costeroids, use of other immune weakening medicines, or other causes,” beginning February 15, 2021.

—Reporting by Hank Trout

Hank Trout, Senior Editor, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his husband Rick.