Renewed Hope for an HIV Vaccine

Dr. Carl Dieffenbach, PhD

Dr. Carl Dieffenbach, PhD

In late September, the U.S. federal government announced news on HIV vaccine research that sparked interest around the world. A trial called RV144, or the Thai HIV vaccine clinical trial Exit Disclaimer, showed that the experimental vaccine regimen was safe and about 31 percent effective in preventing HIV infection. Although the vaccine regimen had a very modest effect (typical vaccines for other disease and conditions provide about 80-90 percent protection), it is the first HIV vaccine to demonstrate any ability to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people. Since the discovery of HIV, making a vaccine has been a major scientific goal of AIDS researchers. Until now, the field has been paved with setbacks and disappointments including two trials that were stopped in 2007 due to safety concerns. This new result reminds us that science is about finding answers and to do this, we must continue to conduct research.

As we look at the results from RV144, a key question is what happened to those volunteers who were vaccinated but became infected? The researchers discovered that the vaccine regimen had no effect on the amount of virus in the blood of volunteers who became infected during the study. This clearly begs the question of whether the immune responses needed for preventing infection and controlling the virus are partially related or perhaps completely different. This forces us to acknowledge that we may not have a clear picture of how a vaccine can provide a high level of protection against HIV. We need to learn as much as possible from this study for the design of future vaccine candidates.

It is also important to note that with more than 16,000 participants this was the world’s largest HIV vaccine study to date and was a massive undertaking. The study represents a culmination of years of effort and collaboration between the U.S. Military HIV Research Program Exit Disclaimer, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Thai Ministry of Public Health Exit Disclaimer, Sanofi Pasteur Exit Disclaimer, Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases Exit Disclaimer and other partners.

As we move forward, we need to analyze the results of the trial and evaluate blood samples gathered from vaccinated subjects to try to figure out why the vaccine worked in a modest way. From this we can improve the design and make better vaccine candidates. In many ways, this is the beginning of the journey—and we do not yet know exactly where we are going.

Though we are still several years to a decade or more away from a licensed HIV vaccine in the United States, the Thai trial represents an important step in the right direction and renews hope that a safe and highly effective vaccine is indeed achievable.


  1. It will be a great day when we can say that we have a cure for HIV. Keep up the good work.

  2. Elizabeth conway says:

    i hope thats going to happend soon because most of the people around the world are dieing beacuse of hiv. i cant wait for that to happend. keep working hard.

  3. This is very encouraging due to the fact that this disease has become a real threat to single women and African Americans in the US. I think Americans have relaxed since the outbreak of the disease, prevention educatioin needs to be highten in some areas of the US populous.

  4. If a vaccination for HIV/AIDS was developed million of lives around the globe could be saved. In the 1980s when HIV/AIDS began infecting society, it was a death sentence. Individuals were stigmatized, refused medical services, and the disease had a 100% kill rate. As time has progressed I think, or at least I hope, that as a society we have surpassed the nonsensical stigmatization of the past towards HIV/AIDS patients. In the past thirty years, scientists have transformed the lives of HIV/AIDS patients by developing medical regimens that do not cure the disease, but make it into a manageable chronic condition.
    Unfortunately, around the world in developing countries, they do not experience the luxuries of scientific breakthrough at the same rate as we do in the U.S.. Millions of men, women, and children lose their lives every year to HIV/AIDS. Although HIV/AIDS is preventable by practicing safe sex, not sharing needles, etc., there are societal and informational issues in developing areas that make it difficult for individuals to protect themselves from the vicious disease.
    I hope that in my lifetime a vaccine is developed. The trend line for HIV/AIDS in some U.S. populations is on an incline, which is very scary because I worry that people have brushed HIV/AIDS to the side, and are not as worried about it anymore. In addition, the rate of infection around the world is generally not improving. The development of an HIV/AIDS vaccine would not just save lives, but it would change the world as we know it.

  5. I can’t wait until the day when we can all say there is a cure for HIV. Just think about all the lives that will be saved, keep going and thank you for your hard work!

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