Does the Start of an HIV Vaccine Trial Mean the End of the Virus?

Launch of South Africa-based clinical trial provides hope for the defeat of HIV.

Scientists believe that South Africa’s largest and most advanced HIV vaccine clinical trial could be the “final nail in the coffin” for the virus, if it proves to be successful, according to The Washington Post.

The HVTN 702 study aims to enroll 5400 sexually active men and women, aged 18 to 35 years, at 15 sites across South Africa, the Post reported. Participants are randomized to receive either the vaccine regimen or a placebo. Over the course of a year, all participants will receive 5 injections.

The vaccine is based on a 2009 clinical trial in Thailand, which was found to be 31.2% effective at preventing HIV infection over the 3.5 years of follow-up.

In the current study, participants who become infected with HIV in the community will be referred to local medical providers for care and treatment, and will be counselled on how to reduce the risk of transmission, according to the Post.

The study is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and the results are expected in late 2020.

“If deployed alongside out current armory of proven HIV prevention tools, a safe and effective vaccine could be the final nail in the coffin for HIV,” said Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID, as reported by the Post. “Even a moderately effective vaccine would significantly decrease the burden of HIV disease over time in countries and populations with high rates of HIV infection, such as South Africa.”

In South Africa, more than 6.8 million people are HIV-positive. As the epidemic grew, life expectancy dropped, but has since rebounded from 57.1 years in 2009 to 62.9 years in 2014, according to the Post.

“HIV has taken a devastating toll in South Africa, but now we begin a scientific exploration that could hold great promise for our country,” said Glenda Gray, CEO of the South African Medical Research Council, as reported by the Post. “If an HIV vaccine were found to work in South Africa, it could dramatically alter the course of the pandemic.”