The first time scientists thought they had developed an HIV vaccine was a really big news, a huge story in our Healthwise segment, in 1987. Since then, researchers have studied more than 50 vaccines they thought might prevent HIV, and the government has funded more than 70 clinical trials to check them out. Not one has lived up to expectations. Why? Because the AIDS virus is crafty. It can change itself to slip away from the drugs that are designed to fight it. Even so, scientists are encouraged that the newest HIV vaccine under study could be the big one. This vaccine actually sends HIV genes into the body. HIV that is synthetically produced tricking the body into producing cells that can kill the virus.
"The vaccine itself is not HIV. It's not going to give you HIV infection, but it's going to allow the body to recognize pieces of HIV and to make an immune response," says Julie McElrath M.D. an immunologist.
Dr. Mcelrath, one of the lead scientists in the study, says not only is this vaccine proving to be safe and effective and the worst side effects so far have just been a fever and some aches. Meanwhile, the need to find a vaccine that works intensifies, as the number of patients in the world living with HIV or AIDS has climbed to 40 million people with the virus infecting another 13 thousand people every day. The HIV vaccine trials network HVTN and Merck & Co., Inc. Is sponsoring the phase II proof-of-concept study using an investigation HIV/AIDS vaccine. Julie McElrath, M.D., Ph.D., is the lead scientist in the Seattle arm of the trial, based at the Fred Hutchinson cancer research center.