Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first COVID-19 vaccine in August 2021, countless myths have surfaced on Twitter and other websites.

Some people claim that COVID-19 vaccines can cause a form of AIDS-like immunodeficiency called vaccine-acquired immune deficiency syndrome (VAIDS).

VAIDS is not a real medical condition, despite the #VAIDS hashtag being used on Twitter since at least December 2021.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends COVID-19 vaccines for everyone 6 months and older and boosters for everyone 5 years and older. There’s no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines lead to immunodeficiency.

Some people with preexisting autoimmune conditions may experience flare-ups of symptoms after receiving a vaccine. But most flare-ups are mild and don’t require treatment. The risks of COVID-19 infection are much greater than the risks of COVID-19 vaccination.

For example, studies have reported flare-up rates of 3% to 13.4% in people with rheumatic diseases, which are autoimmune diseases that affect joints and muscles. Other studies have found that the risk of rheumatic disease flare-ups after COVID-19 infection is between 20% and 40%.

VAIDS is not a real medical condition, but misinformation about VAIDS remains prevalent on social media.

Some people baselessly claim that VAIDS is a weakening of your immune function from COVID-19 vaccines, similar to how people with untreated HIV or AIDS have severely compromised immune systems.

They also claim that the French virologist Dr. Luc Montagnier, who received the Nobel Prize for the discovery of HIV, recommended HIV tests for people receiving their third dose of COVID-19 vaccination. However, there’s no evidence that he ever said this, and he has since passed away.

Key points

  • Despite some people’s claims on social media and news outlets, COVID-19 vaccines do not contain HIV particles.
  • No credible experts believe that HIV testing is necessary after routine COVID-19 vaccination.
  • VAIDS is not a real medical condition.
  • There’s no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines lead to immunodeficiency.
  • There’s no relationship between COVID-19 vaccines approved in the United States and HIV.
  • The COVID-19 vaccines didn’t create subtype-B HIV-1.
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HIV and the late-stage infection AIDS are caused by a viral infection. The only way to get HIV is by encountering the virus.

The most common ways to get HIV are through anal or vaginal sex with someone who has the virus or by sharing syringes and other drug injection equipment with someone who has the virus.

There’s no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination can cause immunodeficiency.

The human immunodeficiency virus causes HIV and AIDS. COVID-19 vaccines do not contain this virus.

Some COVID-19 vaccines called viral vectors use a modified, harmless type of virus with instructions about how to defend against COVID-19. It’s not possible to get COVID-19 or HIV from these viruses.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the only viral vector vaccine approved in the United States. It uses the shell of adenoviruses. Some adenoviruses cause respiratory infections, but the viruses used in the vaccine can’t multiply or cause infection.

There’s no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination increases your risk of HIV infection.

Some people who claim a link point to a letter to the editor published by a group of researchers in The Lancet in 2020. In this letter, the researchers expressed concerns about developing COVID-19 vaccines that use a specific virus vector called adenovirus type-5.

In previous studies, researchers found that some types of HIV vaccines that used adenovirus type-5 increased the chances of HIV in uncircumcised men who contracted the virus.

The researchers in the letter raised the point that COVID-19 vaccines using this technology could raise the risk too. But at this time, the link remains theoretical.

None of the vaccines approved for use in the United States use this technology, but it’s used in the Sputnik V and CanSino vaccines that are approved in some other countries.

It’s important to talk with your doctor about vaccination if you have an autoimmune disease. For most people, the risk of not getting the COVID-19 vaccine is higher than the potential risks of getting it.

The CDC recommends that all people with autoimmune conditions choose Moderna or Pfizer over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

It’s especially important to get vaccinated if you take medications that suppress your immune system. Your doctor might recommend a third primary dose and an additional booster if you’re taking immunosuppressants.

Read the CDC’s latest guidelines for people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised.

Very rare cases of people developing autoimmune conditions after receiving COVID-19 vaccination have been reported. Researchers are still trying to determine whether these were coincidences or a cause-effect relationship.

The incidence of autoimmune syndromes developing after vaccination is very low, and the benefits of vaccination still outweigh the risks for most people. Growing evidence suggests that infection with COVID-19 is associated with the onset of new autoimmune disease.

Autoimmune disease vs. immunodeficiency disorder

Immunodeficiency disorders are conditions that weaken your immune system and make you more prone to infections or disease. Cancer and AIDS are examples of conditions that cause immunodeficiency.

An autoimmune disorder is when your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body. For example, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks healthy cells in your joints.

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People who are moderate or severely immunocompromised are at an increased risk of COVID-19 illness and death. It’s especially important for these people to receive their COVID-19 vaccines to prevent serious illness.

People with immunodeficiency disorders seem to mount a poorer response to COVID-19 vaccines and may require additional doses.

A 2022 review of studies found that after two COVID-19 vaccines, people with typical immune function mounted adequate protection against COVID-19 99% of the time compared to:

  • 92% in people with solid cancer
  • 78% in people with immune-mediated inflammatory disorders
  • 64% in people with blood cancer
  • 27% in organ transplant recipients

The CDC recommends that people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised receive a third primary dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines at least 4 weeks after their second dose.

They also recommend a second primary dose of one of these vaccines at least 4 weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Many people on social media claim that COVID-19 vaccines can cause an immunodeficiency disorder called VAIDS. However, this is a myth. VAIDS is not a real medical condition and there’s no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines lead to immunodeficiency, HIV, or AIDS.

COVID-19 vaccination can protect against illness and severe disease, especially in people with compromised immune systems. If you are moderately or severely immunosuppressed, you may need additional COVID-19 vaccine doses to mount a full immune response.

Your doctor can help answer any questions you may have or let you know if you’re someone who may need extra doses.