What Are Immunizations?

Immunizations (sometimes referred to as “vaccines”) provide immunity against particular diseases. “Immunity” means that your immune system has developed a way of protecting you from a specific disease by creating antibodies to that disease.

For more information on the production and function of antibodies, see’s Immune System 101.

Immunizations can come in several forms: injections, drops, or sprays. They are a proven way to prevent disease. For more information, see CDC’s Vaccines & Immunizations: Basic and Common Questions.

Immunizations for the HIV-Positive Person

Immunizations are an important part of your HIV care plan because they can help protect you from serious illness.

But it can be confusing trying to figure out whether you should get a particular immunization and when. Your healthcare provider can help you decide which immunizations are right for you, based on your age and risk for contracting a specific illness.

The following are some recommended immunizations for HIV-positive adults:

  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Influenza (Injection, not the nasal spray)
  • Polysaccharide Pneumococcal (pneumonia)
  • Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis

There are other immunizations that may be recommended to you based on your age, risk factors, or travel plans. And there are a few immunizations that are NOT recommended for people living with HIV/AIDS, including those for smallpox and anthrax.

For a complete list of the recommended immunizations for people living with HIV, please see AIDSinfo’s Recommended Immunizations for HIV-Positive Adults.

You should keep a current copy of your immunization record with your other test and lab results.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I really need a flu shot?

Yes, you really do! While it isn’t clear whether people with HIV are susceptible to a more severe case of the flu than others, studies show that HIV-positive people tend to have higher rates of complications from influenza than others and more prolonged cases of flu and flu symptoms (especially in “flu season”). For this reason, HIV-positive patients are considered a high priority for vaccination. However, people with HIV should not receive the nasal spray form of the vaccine, which is a weakened but live form of the specific flu virus. Only the injectable form should be used. For more information, see CDC’s HIV/AIDS and the Flu.

What are the side effects of vaccines for people living with HIV?

In general, side effects for people living with HIV are the same as for those who are HIV-negative. They can include:

  • Soreness at the injection site
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches

Some immunizations can also affect a patient’s viral load, making it increase temporarily. Most healthcare providers, however, believe that the risks of contracting the illness and developing complications greatly outweigh the risks of side effects or an undesirable reaction to immunizations. For more information, see AIDSinfo’s HIV and Immunizations.

Last revised: 08/24/2009