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HIV Vaccine: A Reality Ahead?

HIV Vaccine

Human Immunodeficiency Virus - HIV is an epidemic to which humanity has not been able to find the cure. Till date HIV has claimed more than 34 million lives, majority of which suffered from less developed parts of the world. It is believed to be originated in West Central Africa among the non human primates, which transferred to humans through bushmeat and other activities. Though, clinically HIV was first observed in USA among Gay men, later confirmed in 1984.


Vaccines has disease which earlier killed people in millions, like chickenpox, malaria, measles and flu. Vaccines are among the best tool to fight any disease which tend to become a epidemic and risk the lives of millions in future.But, HIV is a altogether a high class of challenge,someone affected by HIV has to live their whole life attached to it, as it infects human for entire life. The worst aftermath of HIV infection is that it kills the entire immune T - Helper cells called CD4+  of the affected person, which results in person getting susceptible to ordinary disease which could been controlled and cured by body immune easily. HIV poese a great challenge to population of developing and less developed countries, as they are most impacted by HIV pandemic and are unable to afford the costly antiretroviral treatments. In early years, person infected would die very soon, but now advanced medical science has carved path for development of antiretroviral treatments. These antiretroviral drugs present an opportunity for person infected by HIV to live many years as a normal human being and improved quality of life. With mounting pressure around the world, developed countries and leading healthcare global organisations started taking efforts to bring an end to this challenge which poses risk to millions of lives across the world.Vaccine is the best solution to get any disease reduced and ultimately put an end to it. 


The work on HIV vaccine started in 1984 with an prospect to develop the vaccine in next 20 to 30 years. But, though the claim was excessively bright, still there is no achievement in developing FDA approved HIV vaccine. Developing vaccine is a difficult process, which could take years of efforts and investments in billions. Many researchers , scientists from around the world need to continuously labour in finding the solution for inactivating the main cause of disease, that could be either a virus or pathogen. HIV posed a new set of challenges towards developing its vaccination : - 

  1. Absence of natural immunity against HIV.
  2. Adaptation by HIV Virus.
  3. Subtypes of HIV.
  4. Absence of correlates of immunity.
  5. No animal testing which can reliably predicts vaccine results on humans.


The first challenge can be understood in way that some persons affected by Measles and chickenpox would have recovered without the intervention of any outside drugs, this opened the gate for finding the natural immunity against those virus or pathogens. But the same natural immunity is lacking in humans, as their has been no cases where any human, infected by HIV has recovered naturally.  Similarly, HIV attacks on immunity, so it becomes intractable to find any immunity against the virus.


Second challenge advances towards a further challenge as the virus of HIV changes and adapts to any medical treatments offered. HIV virus metamorphose according to situations presented. Such rapid changes by the virus makes it difficult to target it in single form and find its weakness. With mutations, HIV virus grows immunity against the drugs given to kill it, this poses further challenge.


HIV virus has many sub - types. These subtypes are genetically distinct from each other, this expands the zone of vaccine to work and deliver result. But there are greater chances that vaccine of one type of HIV virus may not work on subtype of HIV virus, so limiting the options. HIV virus subtypes are predicted to grow in future, adding more complications in development of vaccine.


Correlates of immunity means is similar to first challenge as no natural immunity is present against the HIV virus, No one actually has recovered completely after being infected by virus. This leaves with many question like what kind of antibody is there which can fight HIV virus? Any particular cell has persistently resisted against HIV virus? Until and unless a correlate to protective immunity to HIV infection is detected, creating a vaccine will be an arduous task.


Final challenge poses in clinical trial stage as till date clinical trials on animals have been a platform to detect the successful delivery of any vaccine on humans. Animal models have been an important path for researching and understanding the virus and pathogen, its infection and reaction to durg trails and outcomes. But in HIV virus such animal prototype clinical trial has not been successful.


Current developments : - 

In 2009, a largest HIV vaccine trials were conducted in Thailand referred as “RV144” or “ The Thai Trail”. The trials were conducted on 16000 participants and took 6 years to complete. The trail adopted a”Prime - Boost” strategy where at 1 stage a vaccine is used as a “Prime”, developed using canarypox virus, a recombinant vaccine was developed, which  as called Prime. The “Boost” vaccine was developed to stimulate the production of antibodies. The result of “Prime - Boost” vaccine trials was not promising and delivered that participants witnessed 31% fewer HIV virus infections.  These numbers are not high enough to use vaccine live on outside settings, that too for a disease like HIV. Still the results are a step ahead in positive direction where a vaccine against HIV virus infection can be developed.


With increased awareness, funding from major countries, governmental organisation, NGO’s and participation of researchers and scientists, philanthropic group, pharmaceutical companies along with growth of medical science, the development of HIV vaccine looks promising and combined efforts can bring it into reality.

Most Important Questions (FAQ) To Bust The Myth: Understanding Preventive HIV Vaccine

Q.1 Is HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) Preventive? 

Currently NO. Once contracted with HIV through any means, the person has to live with the virus for whole life. The major challenge is HIV Virus is that , even in current medical scenario, it is still incurable. But with antiretroviral drugs and treatments, the span of life is increased along with quality of life.


Q.2 What is the difference between HIV and AIDS ? 

HIV ( Human Immunodeficiency Virus ) is a Virus, that causes AIDS ( Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Aids is a condition when a person is infected by HIV Virus through any means. Both are different, people infected with HIV virus does not always mean they have AIDS. There are some people who does not progress towards AIDS, they are called “Elite Controllers”. These Elite Controllers are some individuals who have naturally controlled HIV virus and managed to not reach towards AIDS.


Q.3 Is there any HIV Virus Preventive Vaccine? 

Currently No.Though work have started since 1984 to bring an vaccine which can make a person immune towards HIV virus.Developing a vaccine is long term challenge, which requires lot of efforts from researchers, scientists, WHO, funding in Billions of dollars,involvement of rich philanthropists and human trials. The challenges of developing HIV Preventive vaccine are totally different from obstacles faced while developing vaccines which eradicated many diseases.


Q.4 Is there any chances for HIV Virus Preventive Vaccine? 

Yes, there is, though a very slight one. In year 2009, a large scale clinical  trial was conducted in Thailand called “RV 144” or “The Thai Trail”. The trails  were conducted on 16000 participants. The result of this clinical trial was not much successful, only 31 % less infection HIV infections in trial participants.


Q.5 Why HIV Virus Preventive Vaccine is so important? 

There are few important reasons for that: - 

  • The antiretroviral treatment is costly.
  • Many times the antiretroviral drugs in not available, this case is with developing and less developed countries.
  • HIV Virus mutates itself to make resistant against drugs administered to infected person. Eradicating the HIV Virus is impossible till now.
  • Current methods of HIV preventions are not enough to end this epidemic.
  • In future, the Subtypes of HIV Virus can increase, making the task to create a vaccine more difficult.


Q.6 Why HIV Virus Preventive vaccine is needed when there is pill for it?

A antiretroviral drug called Pre Exposure Prophylaxis  -  PrEp is used by people who are HIV Negative, or not infected by HIV virus, who often indulge in unprotected sex and have multiple sex partners. PrEP cannot be an option for everyone as it is expensive, not easily accessible, and contain side effects. Though PrEP is a new method to prevent the HIV virus, it does not eliminate the HIV Virus.Vaccine is the best medical option to end the HIV infection.


Q.7 Why HIV Virus Preventive Vaccine when HIV Virus can be prevented? 

Yes HIV can be prevented through different ways, and has been relatively successful, but even after presence of methods, HIV Virus still cases of HIV Virus infection are registered. Many times HIV Virus is infected to person mistakenly. For example : - In Pakistan , over 400 people infected with HIV Virus due to contaminated syringes. There are many people who use drugs with contaminated syringes. 


Q. 8 Will the HIV Virus Preventive Vaccine costly? 

At this stage, it is difficult to predict the cost of Preventive vaccine, as it is in the clinical stage. But with the scale of investment and time frame, cost have been involved, as clinical trials are very long process and takes years to bring drugs which is safe for human consumption. HIV is a cause of global health concern, and many global NGO and rich philanthropists are involved in developing this preventive vaccine, this scenario can bring the costs of vaccine affordable for everyone.


Q. 9 People involved in HIV Virus Preventive Vaccine trials get HIV infection? 

Completely false. Vaccine is for prevention, not for infection. The clinical trials conducted are indeed safe and under controlled environment with strict adherence to medical procedures. 

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