Monday, May 18 was National HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. It started in 1998 in order to raise awareness of the need for a HIV vaccination and celebrate the progress that has been made to create one. Currently, there is not a vaccine to prevent HIV or treat those who have it.
The global HIV/AIDs pandemic led to an international effort to find a vaccine. According to hiv.gov, the National Institutes of Health currently invests in multiple approaches to prevent HIV. These approaches include conducting 2 late-stage multinational vaccine clinical trials and working to find prevention options that are safe, effective and available to diverse populations.
The Emory Consortium for Innovative AIDS Research in Nonhuman Primates (CIAR-NHP) recently made progress in the fight against HIV/AIDs. They published an online article in “Nature Medicine” that provided insights for HIV prevention and could have implications for future vaccine development.
When it comes to creating an HIV vaccine, most scientists focus on humoral immunity. Humoral immunity is mediated by macromolecules found in antibodies, complement proteins and certain antimicrobial peptides. Rather than focusing only on humoral immunity, Dr. Eric Hunter of Emory explained that the scientists at CIAR-NHP also used cellular immunity and designed the vaccine to generate a strong cellular immune response. That way, both arms of the adaptive immune response system could work together to give better protection.
The monkeys that received the vaccine appeared to have improved protection from HIV because it targeted an area of the immune system that is ignored by most current vaccines. They found that it strengthened immunity and protected the monkeys for a longer period of time. These results not only make progress in the fight against the global pandemic, but also will change the way researchers create vaccines.
Although no vaccine for HIV currently exists, it is possible for people infected by HIV to live a normal life because of antiretroviral therapy. Whey taken daily, it can allow people to stay healthy and lowers the risk of transmission to their partners.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, commonly known as PrEP, also has helped with the pandemic. PrEP is an anti-HIV medication that helps prevent HIV negative people from becoming infected. It is recommended for those at high risk for HIV infection.
With antiretroviral therapy and PrEP, why does the fight for a vaccine still exist? Even with these medications, 1.7 million people worldwide became infected with HIV in 2018. Vaccines are historically proven to be the most effective way to prevent and eradicate infectious diseases. It is a safe and cost-effective way to combat diseases.
So in honor of World AIDS Vaccine Day, let us celebrate the progress we have made in the fight against HIV/AIDs, and continue the search for a vaccine.