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Potential HIV vaccine hits major snag in testing

Published Feb 4th, 2020 12:30PM EST
hiv vaccine
Image: Billion Photos/Shutterstock

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It was only a couple of months ago that news of potential HIV vaccines generated excitement in the medical community, with several promising developments and new drugs in the works. Unfortunately, the quest to rid the world of HIV just suffered a significant setback, as one HIV vaccine trial being conducted by the National Institutes of Health was proven to be largely ineffective.

As BBC reports, the vaccine candidate was tested in over 5,000 people in South Africa. The vaccine was specifically engineered to combat a strain of the virus that is common in the region and despite extensive work on the drug, the rate of HIV infections in the treated group was actually higher than in the group which received a placebo.

“An HIV vaccine is essential to end the global pandemic and we hoped this vaccine candidate would work,” NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci said. “Regrettably, it does not. Research continues on other approaches to a safe and effective HIV vaccine, which I still believe can be achieved.”

According to the researchers conducting the testing, 123 infections were recorded among individuals who received the placebo shot, while 129 infections were confirmed among those who were given the vaccine candidate. Obviously, that’s bad news, and the NIH has called off further testing since it would appear that the vaccine is not working as intended.

As disappointing as this vaccine failure is for the researchers, it’s not the end of the road. Other HIV vaccine candidates are still in various stages of development and testing, and health experts remain bullish on the idea that we could have a viable vaccine for the disease ready to go within just a couple of years.

Trials like this one, even when they come up short, are vital to understanding how HIV reacts to various types of treatment, and setbacks are unfortunately just part of the long game.