It has been revealed that a HIV vaccine tested in Thailand that combined two previously unsuccessful vaccines may have cut infection rates by nearly one third, but the drug is far from ready for global distribution and its effects are limited to certain strains of the HIV virus.
The part U.S. funded study, which involved more than 16,000 volunteers, half of which were given the vaccine and the other half a placebo, found that by combining two drugs ALVAC and AIDSVAX that are tailored for the B and E (more correctly called CRF A/E) sub-strains of HIV-1 (not sub-strain C which is predominant in Africa), they were able to cut infection rates by 31.2% – something which scientists were beginning to think might be impossible.
Strangely, neither vaccine that was used to make up this new preventative treatment had been able to cut infection rates when tried separately in the past, but this study, conducted by Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health and led by researcher Supachai Reks-Gnarm, investigated the effects of the vaccines when working in tandem, a synergy that created a “prime boost” effect and has buoyed hopes that a full vaccine may not be out of reach after all:
“This result is tantalisingly encouraging. The numbers are small and the difference may have been due to chance, but this finding is the first positive news in the Aids vaccine field for a decade,” Dr. Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet commented.
Indeed, the wider medical and scientific community have been quick to downplay these findings, with all quarters saying that the study needs to be urgently repeated and expanded to verify the effects of the new preventative drug. However, cautious optimism remains:
“Tests will have been done to verify that the difference is unlikely to have occurred by chance and I have no trouble believing the figures,” said Dr Adriano Boasso, an HIV vaccine expert at Imperial College London.
The BBC have also put up a Q&A on the vaccine to discuss the findings, which you can find here.
It is important to state that the vaccine is far from ready to go into global distribution, and whilst the results are promising, they are as yet limited, and even if proven successful, they may not be relevant to halting the AIDS epidemic entirely.
It is unlikely that in the short term a vaccine with just a 30% success rate would be given licensing approval. To put somewhat of a scale as to the work that needs to be done, the vaccine will need a minimum efficacy of 70% to be viable. Still, a start has been made on what was previously thought to be an unfathomable disease.
Watch this CBS report below:
Whilst hopes of a vaccine are brilliant news, it is a salient reminder that the US Congress has yet to re-authorize the Ryan White CARE Act which provides HIV/AIDS care and support to under privileged US citizens who suffer from disease and who, because of a lack of insurance or full coverage, can not get access to life saving medications or palliative care without the funding and assistance programs Ryan White CARE provides.
People are becoming desperate, and a few days ago there were angry scenes at a White House hosted HIV/AIDS forum in D.C.
The deadline for reauthorization is September 30th and it is fast approaching. The Ryan White CARE Act is healthcare that is not debatable. Although Congress have pledged to reauthorize the act, urge them now to be steady in their commitment to this important, no, vital, health care fund.
Sign the Reauthorize the Ryan White CARE Act petition now!