By Sola Ogundipe
A new vaccine against HIV,being tested in a trial to be launched in South Africa, has been described as the potential “the final nail in the coffin” for HIV/AIDS if it is successful.
Known as HVTN 702, the study will enrol 5,400 sexually active men and women aged 18 -35 at 15 sites across South Africa. Results of the vaccine study are expected in late 2020.
It will be the largest and most advanced HIV vaccine clinical trial to take place in South Africa, where more than 1,000 people a day are infected with HIV.
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr Anthony Fauci stated: “If deployed alongside our current armoury of proven HIV prevention tools, a safe and effective vaccine could be the final nail in the coffin for HIV.
“Even a moderately effective vaccine would significantly decrease the burden of HIV disease over time in countries and populations with high rates of HIV infection, such as South Africa,” he said.
I was gathered that the vaccine being tested in HVTN 702 is based on a 2009 trial in Thailand, that was found to be 31.2 percent effective at preventing HIV infection over the 3.5 years of follow-up after the vaccination.
The new vaccine aims to provide greater and more sustained protection and has been adapted to the HIV subtype that predominates in southern Africa.
According to the chief executive officer of the South African Medical Research Council, Glenda Ray,
“HIV has taken a devastating toll in South Africa, but now we begin a scientific exploration that could hold great promise for our country.
“If an HIV vaccine were found to work in South Africa, it could dramatically alter the course of the pandemic.”
Volunteers for the study, funded by NIAID, are being randomly assigned to receive either the vaccine regimen or a placebo. All participants will receive five injections over a year.
Participants who become infected with HIV in the community will be referred to local medical providers for care and treatment and will be counselled on how to reduce their risk of transmitting the virus.
South Africa has more than 6.8 million people living with HIV, but the country has had remarkable success in rolling out an HIV drug treatment program, which the government says is the largest in the world.