No evidence some COVID-19 vaccines increase risk of HIV infection

by Reuters
Friday, 18 February 2022 20:09 GMT

A nurse prepares a H1N1 flu vaccine shot at a hospital in Budapest November 20, 2009. REUTERS/Karoly Arvai (HUNGARY HEALTH)

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Over the past few weeks, Reuters has debunked a series of misleading and false claims about COVID-19 vaccination efforts and HIV. 

Contrary to claims online, there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines increase risk of HIV infection. To back up their claims, social media users are pointing to a letter sent to medical journal The Lancet in 2020. The correspondence has been shared without context, however. Researchers expressed concerns about certain COVID-19 vaccines being developed with an Ad5 vector —which are not used in the United States — but so far there is no data to show such vaccines carry any increased risk of HIV infection.

Over the past few weeks, Reuters has debunked a series of misleading and false claims about COVID-19 vaccination efforts and HIV. 

However, some social media users are referring to a letter by a group of researchers to The Lancet on Oct. 19, 2020 sharing screengrabs or links of months-old media reports. The letter is headlined, “Use of adenovirus type-5 vectored vaccines: a cautionary tale,” and the articles all mention researchers warning that some COVID-19 vaccines could increase risk of HIV infection.

“So every individual around the globe that has been vaccinated should request a blood test for HIV?” replied one user. 

“Ya just a coincidence so many doctors warned of this and a new strain of HIV was just discovered in Europe and its reported that they are working on a new HIV vaccine at the moment.”

“So, it means, many of those vaccinated will turn into patients with lifelong need for a cocktail of AIDS medicines. And, that lifelong can mean anything from 2 to 10 years. And, no one will blame these [vaccine emoji], zero liability too.”

The correspondence, however, is not evidence that available COVID-19 vaccinations are leading to HIV.


In the letter, four researchers expressed concerns about COVID-19 vaccines that use recombinant adenovirus type-5 (Ad5) vectors. Based on past research on certain HIV vaccines that used Ad5 that found an increased risk of HIV among vaccinated men, researchers said that COVID-19 vaccines using Ad5 could possibly lead to an increased risk too.

None of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the World Health Organization or used in the U.S. use an Ad5 vector.

Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s CanSino COVID-19 vaccines, which both use Ad5 have been used in various countries including Argentina, Chile and Mexico.

“There is no current data showing increased HIV risk” with these vaccines, Meedan Health Desk said. They explore the confusions stemming out of Ad5 in more detail.

Susan Buchbidner, Director of Bridge HIV at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, told Reuters in a statement: “There is a theoretical risk that, for people who are exposed to HIV through sex or drug use, that Ad5 COVID vaccines could increase susceptibility to HIV infection. This only applies to Ad5 vaccines, and is theoretical only. There are no data that shows that COVID vaccines increase HIV infection rates, but this has not been formally studied.”

Experts previously contacted by Reuters on similar claims that vaccine boosters would make people test positive for HIV said that COVID-19 vaccines cannot cause HIV.

Douglas Richman, director of the HIV Institute at the University of California San Diego told Reuters via email that claims that COVID-19 vaccines are leading to HIV “are without merit.”

These claims “are dangerous to individuals who rely on them and to the public health,” he added.


Misleading. There is no evidence COVID-19 vaccines lead to an increased risk of HIV. Users making this claim have shared a 2020 letter to the Lancet in which researchers expressed concerns about Ad5 vector COVID-19 vaccines. These vaccines are not used in the U.S. and there is no evidence that they cause the possible increased risk mentioned by the researchers in the correspondence.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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