Scientists and government leaders have now begun to explore how to figure out how to refine the world’s first effective AIDS vaccine. In a large study performed in Thailand, this new vaccine protected 1 in every 3 people from getting HIV.
This is great news but researchers are saying that it is not quite significant enough for instant use. This said, it is a milestone event in the 26 years since the AIDS virus originated. Until now, there were many scientists who feared that a successful vaccine would never be obtained because of recent setbacks. The U.N. agency UNAIDS and the World Health Organization said that the findings “instilled new hope” in the field, even though it will probably be years before a vaccine will be available on a large scale.
The study, which was performed by the Thailand Ministry of Public Health and sponsored by the U.S. Army, tested a combination of two vaccines in a “prime-boost” method. The first vaccine primes the immune system to attack HIV and the second makes the response stronger. Strains of HIV that are commonly found in Thailand were used in the study. Scientists emphasize that it is not yet known whether this type of vaccine will work against strains that are found in the U.S., Africa and other countries in the world.
The results of the study showed that new infections happened in 51 of the 8,197 given the vaccine and in 74 of the 8,198 who received fake shots. This came out to be a 31% lower risk of infection for the group with the real vaccine. Two of the infected participants who were administered the placebo actually died.
This was the very first time scientists have tried preventing HIV in the same way that they treat it – by using a combination approach. Two vaccines that work in different ways were used, which may explain why the method worked. Scientists said that neither vaccine was effective when they were given alone. The combo did reduce the risk of getting infected with HIV by more than 31% in the study of more than 16,000 volunteers from Thailand.
Scientists don’t know yet why the vaccine combination was successful. It was the Army’s suggestion to test the combination, according to Dr. Donald Francis, who is a former government scientist who helped pinpoint HIV as the cause of AIDS. He now leads the nonprofit group that holds the rights to AIDSVAX.
Aids advocates and scientists both agree that more research is needed but are very optimistic with this most recent vaccine. According to UNAIDS, every day there are 7,500 people in the world who are newly infected with HIV. It is estimated that the amount of people now living with the AIDS virus is estimated at a whopping 33 million.