Vaccination options have already generated a great deal of controversy, as documented in Dr. Paul A. Offit's book “Deadly Choices: How the Anti-vaccine Movement Threatens Us All”. The debate may grow more heated if current researchers succeed in producing a vaccine against HIV. Would you want the vaccine for yourself? What about your children? Do you think vaccinated individuals may engage in less cautious behavior, increasing their risk of other sexually transmitted diseases or infections from illegal drug use? What about teen pregnancy? And what costs would be justified to prevent the epidemic of AIDS orphans in less developed countries?
All vaccines offer protection for most of the individuals vaccinated, but none offers 100 percent protection. Thus, the development of an HIV vaccine raises ethical questions. How do we deal with a vaccine that offers partial protection for a deadly disease? Can we educate people to get the vaccine and avoid exposure to the virus?
Antibiotics and sanitation have made great progress in reducing epidemics of bacterial disease, but viruses are a much bigger challenge. The best anti-viral drugs offer only treatment for AIDS, not a cure. The same is true for influenza and other viral infections. I have not seen any lines of research that offer much promise for killing viruses without the help of the immune system.
Vaccines offer the best hope of eradicating viral diseases. The World Health Assembly declared our planet free of smallpox disease in 1980, after a 10-year program of vaccination. The next year, the United States Centers for Disease Control formed a Task Force on Kaposi's Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections, in response to the first recognized cases of AIDS (which received its name in 1982). Today, after 30 years of research, we are still looking for an effective vaccine against HIV/AIDS. Recent articles in the medical literature report continued progress. Researchers at Duke University, North Carolina, reported that a “clinically useful” HIV vaccine is indeed possible based on current technology. The Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, based in New York, echoed this optimism.
I found 533 studies under the search term “HIV vaccine” at http://clinicaltrials.gov. This area of research may deserve more attention.
1. Voronin Y et al, “The future of HIV vaccine research and the role of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise”, Curr Opin HIV AIDS. 2010 Sep; 5(5): 414-20.
2. Cooper CJ et al, “Vaccine-induced HIV seropositivity/reactivity in noninfected HIV vaccine recipients”, JAMA. 2010 Jul 21; 304(3): 275-83.
3. Watkins DI, “HIV vaccine development”, Top HIV Med. 2010 Apr-May; 18(2): 35-6.
4. Smallpox eradication declared in 1980:
5. HIV AIDS history:
Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.