SUNY Downstate Researchers Publish New Study Highlighting COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Among HIV Positive Population

By Office of Communication s & Marketing | Apr 2, 2024

Research Finds Stigma, Misleading Health Beliefs and Low Awareness are Key Contributors to Vaccine Hesitancy

 Published in PLOS Global Public Health Journal, the Study is the First-of-its-kind conducted in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

BROOKLYN, NY – SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University announced the publication of new research by Tamar Zurashvili, M.D., MPH, from the Faculty of Medicine at Tbilisi State University in Tbilisi, Georgia, on examining the barriers to COVID-19 vaccine uptake among people living with HIV (PLWH) in the country of Georgia. The research reported in this publication was supported by the Fogarty International Center, and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health.

The study, which was published in the PLOS Global Public Health Journal, is the first-of-its-kind conducted in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and defined the factors independently associated with COVID-19 vaccination among people living with HIV. Dr. Zurashvili’s findings indicate that approximately half of people diagnosed with HIV in Georgia were not vaccinated against COVID-19 because of the pervasive stigma around HIV/AIDS, misleading health beliefs, and a low awareness about COVID-19.

“These findings are a step forward in the advancement of vaccine uptake for COVID-19 among vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Zurashvili. “By understanding the root causes of vaccine hesitancy, physicians can better communicate with their patient populations to overcome stigma, awareness, and misinformation. I’m thankful to the Global Public Health Journal for featuring this important work, which has the potential to ensure more equitable public health outcomes.”

“This study’s qualitative analysis found additional insights, revealing that HIV stigma and concerns about privacy significantly influenced vaccine uptake decisions among PLWH. Further, participants expressed a preference for integrating the COVID-19 vaccination into existing HIV care services to mitigate stigma-related barriers. The study’s findings underscore the urgent need for targeted interventions to overcome barriers to COVID-19 vaccine uptake among PLWH in Georgia,” added Jack A. DeHovitz, M.D., MPH, MHCDS, FACP, Distinguished Service Professor at Downstate’s Department of Medicine and Director of the Special Treatment and Research (STAR) Program at Downstate.

University Hospital at Downstate has conducted other studies on inequities and disparities in health through their STAR program, aiming to achieve health equity through quality care, education, research, and community empowerment. The STAR Program has been providing HIV Research Training in Georgia since 1996, supported by the Fogarty International Center through STAR's New York State International Training and Research Program.

The published study, “HIV Stigma and Other Barriers to COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake Among Georgian People Living with HIV/AIDS” can be accessed HERE.


About SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

Downstate Health Sciences University in Brooklyn is one of four academic health centers (AMCs) in The State University of New York (SUNY) 64-campus system and the only SUNY AMC in New York City dedicated to health education, research, and patient care for the borough’s 2.7 million residents. Its flagship hospital, University Hospital at Downstate (UHD), is a teaching hospital and benefits from the expertise of Downstate’s exceptional medical school and world-class academic center research facilities. With a staff of over 800 physicians representing 53 specialties and subspecialties, Downstate offers comprehensive healthcare services to the community.

UHD provides high-risk neonatal and infant services, pediatric nephrology, and dialysis for kidney diseases and is the only kidney transplantation program in Brooklyn. Beyond its clinical expertise, Downstate houses a range of esteemed educational institutions, including its College of Medicine, College of Nursing, School of Health Professions, School of Graduate Studies, and School of Public Health. Downstate fosters innovation through its multifaceted biotechnology initiative, the Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT, which support early-stage and more mature biotech companies.