Every year on May 18, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) celebrates HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. This day has been established to thank the thousands of scientists, volunteers, lab staff, and other people who have been involved in searching for an HIV vaccine, and an eventual cure for this terrible disease.
During this time, awareness about the effects of HIV/AIDS is spread, in order to provide the public with the information they need to be knowledgeable about the disease, how it spreads, and how it progresses from HIV to AIDS. If you’d like to get involved, visit the NHAS website now, and use their helpful resources to help educate yourself and your community.
To do our part in spreading awareness about HIV/AIDS and the search for a vaccine, we’ve compiled a list of answers to 5 frequently-asked questions about HIV vaccines. We hope these are helpful as you learn more about HIV/AIDS, and continue to educate yourself about the effects of this disease.
- Doesn’t An HIV Vaccine Already Exist?
Though there have been many breakthroughs in the field, there is still no approved vaccine for HIV. Recently, though, there have been quite a few promising discoveries. In 2009, in Thailand, a clinical trial was performed on over 30,000 adults with a vaccine combination known as “RV144”. This trial vaccine was shown to prevent about 32% of all new HIV infections, and is currently undergoing further research to improve its efficacy.
And recently, an all-new vaccine moved into Phase II clinical trials in North America, and it’s expected that trials will begin in September 2017. So while an HIV vaccine doesn’t currently exist, there are hundreds of different labs, universities, and researchers working night and day to find one.
- Why Do We Need An HIV Vaccine If We Can Prevent HIV From Developing Into AIDS?
It’s true that, over the last several decades, we’ve managed to improve the quality of life of HIV patients dramatically, and that smart medication can be used to prevent HIV from developing into AIDS.
However, these medications can’t prevent the spread of infection. This is especially true in countries in the developing world, where many babies are born infected with HIV. In addition, current HIV medications are extremely expensive and hard for people in lower-income or middle-income countries to access.
An HIV vaccine would prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS entirely. Sexual transmission of the disease would no longer be possible, and children would not be born with it – reducing the level of HIV/AIDS around the world in a cost-effective way. This is why an HIV vaccine is still such a high priority, despite advances in HIV treatments.
- Do Test Subjects Have To Be Infected With HIV?
This isn’t true. In fact, most HIV vaccines are tested on HIV-negative people initially. The HIV virus in these vaccines is rendered inert, and the body’s reaction to the virus is measured. Almost all test patients in HIV trials are HIV-negative in the developed world.
In the developing world, this isn’t always the case. Therapeutic HIV trials are often conducted on individuals who are infected with HIV in areas like sub-Saharan Africa.
However, in both cases, the HIV vaccine doesn’t infect an individual – the HIV virus contained in all modern HIV vaccine trials is inert and harmless.
- Why Is Progress On An HIV Vaccine So Slow?
Well, it may seem hard to believe, but HIV vaccine progress is actually progressing at a rapid pace. Think about it – we only really discovered HIV/AIDS and its effects in the 1980s. That means that researchers have only spent about 30 years developing a cure.
For comparison, it took researchers over 40 years to develop a polio vaccine. Our advances in technology are sure to help us as we continue to search for a cure. Though an HIV vaccine will be hard to develop, it’s only a matter of time before we find the answer to this horrible disease.
- Why Would I Need An HIV Vaccine If I’m Not At Risk?
You may not have been at risk of polio, but you still got immunized. Properly developed, an HIV vaccine would become as routine as the MMR vaccine or a flu shot. Despite the fact that you may not be at risk, an HIV vaccine would allow us to eliminate this disease entirely – similar to smallpox.
In addition, nurses can often be exposed to HIV in the line of duty. Used needles, blood from HIV-positive patients, and medical materials from HIV-positive patients can provide a vector for infection. Though infection from these sources is extremely rare, eliminating the risk altogether could lead to better outcomes for both patients and nurses.
The Search For A Cure Is Ongoing – See How You Can Help!
We hope that this FAQ has been useful as you learn more about the search for an HIV vaccine. Though progress on a vaccine is slow, we’re getting closer to a breakthrough every day. And when we do, we can eliminate the threat of HIV altogether – in the future, this horrible disease will be nothing but a memory.
So share what you’ve learned with your family, your friends, and your nursing colleagues. And if you’re interested in helping even further, visit aids.gov now, and see how you can help plan an event in your community or hospital.