In honor of HIV Vaccine Awareness Day next month, we are highlighting the need for a vaccine, and the continuing efforts of thousands of volunteers, community members, health professionals and scientists who work every day to find one that is safe and effective. To all those dedicated people, we want to say thank you!
A preventative HIV vaccine is a substance that teaches the body’s immune system to recognize and protect itself against HIV. Vaccines currently under development are created from man-made materials that cannot cause HIV. This is unlike other vaccines, which uses a small amount of the disease to teach your body to be immune.
Supporters of the HIV vaccine hope for several outcomes of the research. The goals include preventing infection in most men and women living with HIV/AIDS; preparing a person’s immune system to block continued infection and eliminate the HIV virus; and delaying or preventing the onset of AIDS.
The goal is to create a vaccine that is 100 percent effective in preventing infection in everyone, but even a partially effective vaccine will also make a great difference. Creating a partially effective vaccine will stop the disease in a portion of the population, thereby decreasing the number of people able to spread HIV to others.
There are two kinds of HIV vaccines currently being researched – therapeutic and preventative. A preventative vaccine is given to HIV negative people. It’s designed to stop infection and control the spread of HIV. It does not cure AIDS. Scientists believe that much like current HIV/AIDS treatments, multiple vaccines will be needed to treat people already infected with HIV. A therapeutic vaccine is one that is researched for the treatment of people with HIV or AIDS.
There are three phases an HIV vaccine must go through before it can be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Phase I includes testing on a small number of healthy HIV negative people. During this phase, volunteers are given different amounts of the vaccine. Phase I can last between 12 and 18 months. Phase II can last up to two years, and includes hundreds of HIV negative volunteers who test the safety and immune responses of the vaccine. The final phase—Phase III—includes thousands of HIV negative volunteers and can last between three and four years.
An effective HIV vaccine is one of the best long-term solutions to stopping the epidemic spread of AIDS. The vaccine cannot be developed fast enough! Nearly 25 million people have died from AIDS worldwide. An estimated 40 million people are living with AIDS and approximately 14,000 people are infected every hour. Even more concerning, approximately 13 million children who are 15 years of age and younger have lost one or both parents to AIDS. This is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa.
There is no cure for AIDS, so the continued push to find a vaccine is crucial. The availability of anti-retroviral therapy can dramatically decrease AIDS related deaths; however, the regimen is complex and costly. Often it can have serious side effects on the patient’s health. Finding a working HIV vaccine will save millions of lives, much like the polio vaccine did so many years ago. HIV Vaccine Awareness Day is May 18th – take time today to find out how you can help raise awareness in your community!