People with HIV in England will no longer have to disclose their status to get the Covid vaccine at the earliest opportunity.
Those living with the immunological condition will receive the jab in phase six of the roll-out, after people aged over 65, due to the associated immunosuppression risk.
But campaigners warned that thousands of HIV-positive people would miss out on the potentially life-saving vaccine for months as they can only be called on if they reveal their status to a GP.
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It is thought one in five people diagnosed do not tell their local GP due to fear of stigma and discrimination.
In a change of policy, NHS England will now allow HIV clinics to refer patients for a jab without notifying their GP.
People with the condition will be contacted in coming weeks to ask if they are comfortable sharing their status through the primary care system.
If not, patients will be able to access the vaccine through an alternative route, such as the hospital where their HIV clinic is based.
The change comes after i highlighted concerns by health experts and campaigners that the roll-out to priority groups risked missing people with HIV.
Dr Michael Brady, NHS England National Advisor for LGBT Health and consultant in HIV and Sexual Health, told i: “I encourage everyone living with HIV to register with a GP and make them aware of their HIV diagnosis so they get the best possible health care and access to the life-saving Covid vaccine.
“For those not comfortable doing this, local HIV clinics will now be able to arrange a vaccine through an alternative route, such as a local hospital hub.”
All 100,000 people diagnosed with HIV in the UK, at all stages of infection, should be offered the covid-19 vaccination in phase six, under Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) rules.
People on medication for HIV cannot pass the virus on and typically have the same levels of health and life expectancy as those without HIV.
Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS, told i: “Sadly for too many, the stigma still associated with HIV can impact on people living with HIV accessing other health services.
“This decision will mean that those people living with HIV can access the Covid vaccine in the best way for them and ensure no one is left behind.”
Ian Green, Chief Executive of sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “This is great news and the right decision from the NHS as it means people living with HIV will be able to take up the potentially life-saving Covid-19 vaccine at their earliest opportunity – even if they feel unable to share their HIV status with this doctor.”
Darren Knight, Chief Executive at George House Trust, which supports people living with HIV in North West England, said: “Through providing Covid vaccinations via HIV Clinics, it means that no one living with HIV will miss out on the opportunity to play their part in the battle against Covid and stay well.
“We’ve still got work to do to build confidence in people sharing their HIV status, providing vaccinations via HIV clinics is the best thing we can do right now and this is such welcome and positive news.”
The new policy in England comes days after NHS Wales made the same change.