A vaccine to prevent HIV, the virus that leads to AIDs, is an impossible dream that is materializing on the horizon. Results of a trial have raised hopes that this disease which kills millions every year can be beaten.
The trial, one of the largest ever, involved more than 16,000 participants in Thailand ranging from the ages of 18-30 and cost 105 million dollars. They were followed for three years and were all HIV negative before the trial and came from moderate risk communities.
Nearly 8,200 received a placebo, a similar number were vaccinated. Each one was offered condoms, taught how to avoid infection and promised lifelong antiretroviral treatment if they got the disease.
Researchers found that those who received a series of inoculations were 31 percent less likely to contract HIV compared with the ones on the placebo. Fifty one in the vaccine group eventually contracted HIV, compared with the 74 in the placebo group.
“These results show that development of a safe and effective preventative HIV vaccine is possible,” said Colonel Nelson Michael who is director the US military HIV program.
According to Vitals.com, Michael received his medical degree at Stanford University School of Medicine and did a residency in Internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.
One of the mysteries scientists still don’t understand is why they achieved success only after combining ALVAC and AIDSVAX vaccines together. When tested on their own, the drugs failed clinical tests.
Researchers will need to evaluate this as well as the reason why it works in some people but not others and also why those who became infected despite the vaccination got no benefit at all.
The usual benchmark in medicine is that a vaccine should protect 80 percent or more of the recipients. While this vaccine’s 31.2 percent rate didn’t come close, considering the failure of previous HIV vaccines it is considered a great start. Before this study it was thought impossible to create any vaccine for HIV.
The US army chose to do the test in Thailand because U.S. soldiers who travel there are at risk to contract HIV and also the US military has collaborated with health officials and researchers in Thailand for a long time.
“The army has a very large program in HIV and other diseases around the world. The good thing about this is by protecting our troops we are also doing something for mankind.” Col. Michael said.
According to estimates by WHO and UNAIDS, 33 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2007. That same year some 2.7 millions became newly infected and 2 million died, including 270,000 children. Two-thirds of HIV infections are in sub-Saharan Africa.