Today marks the 15th annual National HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, a time to recognize the progress being made toward the development of an HIV/AIDS vaccine; applaud the efforts of the scientists, researchers, volunteers and other individuals that have contributed to successes; and commit to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. and abroad.
When HIV was first identified as the virus that caused AIDS in the 1980s, many believed that a vaccine would soon to be available to stop the spread of the growing epidemic. More than 30 years into the epidemic, a vaccine is still not available to prevent HIV infection; 50,000 people in the U.S. become infected with HIV every year, and 2.7 million new infections occurred worldwide in 2010. Scientists have made remarkable progress, however, in the development of vaccine candidates that provide hope that an HIV/AIDS vaccine will be available in the future that can stop the pandemic — given robust support now for research and development (R&D).
In 2009, a large-scale clinical trial of the RV144 vaccine, which received funding from the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health, demonstrated for the first time that a vaccine can protect against HIV infection — a major scientific breakthrough that propelled the field of HIV vaccine research forward. Follow-up studies have since shed more light on how the vaccine provided moderate protection against HIV infection and are being used to improve the RV144 vaccine candidate and inform the next generation of HIV/AIDS vaccines.
Another major clinical trial is under way in the U.S. to test the safety and efficacy of a two-part vaccine regimen to prevent HIV/AIDS. Supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of the NIH, and conducted by the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, this study is designed to advance HIV vaccine research by answering important scientific questions about how the usage of a two-part regimen affects how the immune system responds to the vaccine.
Milestones in basic research also show promise for the development of viable vaccine candidates in the future. Scientists from the NIAID Vaccine Research Center, International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, NIH Intramural Sequencing Center and the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology, working in collaboration, have discovered how a unique group of antibodies that have rare protective abilities against HIV evolve, potentially leading to a novel approach for vaccine development for HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, like pandemic flu.
The global health community has been buzzing with talk of creating an AIDS-free generation. Experts believe that reaching this goal is possible with the widespread adoption of combination prevention strategies. There is one technology, however, that has the potential not only to fight HIV/AIDS but to stop it once and for all — a vaccine that can prevent infection.
Click here to read a statement by Anthony Fauci, MD, director of NIAID, about the importance of HIV vaccine research in commemoration of HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. Here’s another statement noting the day, this from Col. Nelson Michael, MD, PhD, director of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program.