May 18th marks National HIV Vaccine Awareness Day annually. This is a day to revisit the milestones in HIV vaccine development, to honor volunteers, to think about recent research results, and to create a pathway for success. It is also a call to action!
For more than 40 years, some of the most brilliant minds in the world have devoted themselves to the search for an HIV vaccine, but it continues to be difficult. Some might say that there has been little return, but an incredible foundation has been built. If we continue on, we will succeed.
Vaccine science: prevention versus mitigation
When most people think about an HIV vaccine they think of prevention and that vaccines prevent a disease completely. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic many of us began to understand that vaccine science is nuanced, and vaccines may likely provide partial protection or reduce the severity of a disease rather than prevent it altogether.
Prevention is about choices.
Prevention is about choices. Communities around the world – communities such as ours in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County – need an HIV vaccine if we are truly going to end the HIV epidemic. There have been some research disappointments in recent years, where large HIV vaccine clinical trials were ended due to a lack of efficacy. This has been tough on everyone involved. The field is finding that it is time to get back to basics: back to the lab, back to the discovery process, and turn to the scientists who can help to innovate and provide new vaccine candidates to move forward.
Getting from clinicals to community
It will be a team effort, however. The communities who participate in the research, who are living with HIV every day and who face high rates of new HIV infections, are blazing the trail for us. This is our challenge. We will get from lab to clinical trial to community rollout only if we follow their wisdom. If we collaborate and fully engage communities, we can get there together.
If we collaborate and fully engage communities, we can get there together.
In the meantime, we have to continue our work to prevent HIV through all the tools we have available. We also need to ensure that people living with HIV have everything they need to live full, healthy lives, and to remain in care.
What can you do?
Join the dialogue this National HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. Watch the HIV.gov Live with Leadership webinar where I chat with Harold Phillips, Carl Dieffenbach, and Timothy Harrison about the plans and the possibilities.
For a view of ongoing vaccine trials, visit the HIV vaccine Track the Research page on avac.org.