HIV Vaccine Research: A Marathon Not a Sprint
Today NMAC recognizes HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. While a HIV vaccine has not yet been discovered, we acknowledge the tremendous progress that has been made in HIV prevention research and look forward to ending the epidemic once and for all.
By Matthew Rose · NMAC Policy and Advocacy Manager
As I reflect on HIV vaccine research I am reminded about running a marathon. In the same ways marathon runners commit to the grueling training, the hard work, and the non-stop commitment towards a single goal, they know that the sweet reward of crossing the finish line will be worth all the struggles, aches, and pain.
The search for a vaccine for HIV has been a 30-year-long marathon. While we have maintained a sense of urgency in the fight against HIV, we have always known that this process would be a long-term endeavor. Vaccines are some of the most cost-effective prevention strategies. They were essential in eradicating diseases like smallpox, and in bringing other diseases like measles and polio under control. We know that HIV, like many other diseases that have taken decades for a vaccine to be developed, will not go away easily.
Yet while no fully licensed preventive HIV vaccine exists, tremendous progress has been made in the realm of HIV research. Scientists continue to push the envelope of creating a fully realized HIV vaccine, and because of many of their developments we have discovered pathways that have led to breakthroughs in creating vaccines for other infectious diseases such as Zika and Ebola.
By teaching the immune system to create responses that prevent HIV from establishing itself in the body, a HIV vaccine will be a prevention option that meets the needs of many communities most vulnerable to HIV; which, in the US, has disproportionately been people of color and women.
We are reaching a new mile marker in this race of a lifetime. For the first time in over a decade, two vaccine trials and another vaccine-related approach are either in or simultaneously moving into efficacy trials. The first, a vaccine trial known as HVTN 702, kicked off in South Africa last October. The other vaccine trial, will test a ‘mosaic’ candidate and starts in sub-Saharan Africa in the coming months. Finally, the antibody-mediated prevention study (the AMP study) is already underway in the Americas, Europe, and Africa. While these trials will only show results in the next several years, their prospects and the scientific findings are exciting. Most importantly, they represent a continued endurance on this long, hard road to discover what might be a large-scale game changer in the way we handle this enduring epidemic.
If the HIV epidemic has taught us anything, it is that we need multiple ways to fight the virus. People need options that fit into their lives and the way they live, so that HIV does not have to be a constant worry. Existing HIV prevention and treatment strategies are essential, yet there are many whose lives make it hard for them to use or access these methods; we owe it to them to establish a battery of additional options, including a vaccine. So we will continue until the finish line in the race that is the quest for an HIV vaccine. On the way we will continue to discover things that help fight for our better future: a world that gives all people hope… and options.
Yours in the Struggle,
Policy and Advocacy Manager