End to HIV/AIDS Pandemic Contingent on Vaccine Development

Moderately effective vaccine could boost efforts to cure HIV.

Despite effective new strategies for treating and preventing HIV infections, a cure has yet to be discovered, leaving thousands of people vulnerable to infection. The creation of an effective HIV vaccine will likely be the key to ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic, according to a statement from Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Much like the search for a cure for HIV, a vaccine against the virus has been elusive, with many candidates failing to be moderately effective in humans.

In theory, implementing HIV treatment and prevention tools globally could end the pandemic, according to the statement. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is able to suppress the virus and benefit the health of HIV-positive patients. Both ART and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) helps prevent HIV transmission to those at high risk of infection.

From a more practical standpoint, ending the pandemic without a vaccine is unlikely, according to Dr Fauci.

Substantial progress has been made in HIV testing and treatment, but significant gaps remain. Current estimates indicate that more than 17 million HIV-positive patients around the world are not receiving ART. In light of an estimated 1.8 million new infections in 2016 alone, it is clear that more work needs to be done.

Several studies have suggested that the spread of HIV around the globe will make it difficult to effectively implement treatment and prevention programs. As new infections increase, economic resources allocated to treatment and prevention also need to increase, according to the statement.

Dr Fauci believes that an HIV vaccine may be the missing component to slowing the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Since the immune system does not adequately protect against HIV, a vaccine would likely not be as effective against those used to control or end outbreaks, including polio and yellow fever vaccines, according to the statement.

If current treatment and prevention efforts continue with the addition of an HIV vaccine that is at least 50% effective, the pandemic may be slowed, according to Dr Fauci.

“It is critical to continue to accelerate a robust research effort in that direction while aggressively scaling-up the implementation of current treatment and prevention tools,” Dr Fauci concluded. “To do anything less would lead to failure, which for HIV is not an option.”