What you need to know about the promising HIV vaccine trials that will soon begin

Although many strides have been made in HIV prevention, scientists in South Africa believe they may be able to put the final nail in the coffin of the devastating illness. In a study that launches this Wednesday, a new HIV vaccine will be tested — and it has the potential to change everything about how doctors treat the virus.

The study, called HTVN, is the largest and most advanced HIV vaccine clinical trial to be conducted in South Africa — a country where over 1,000 people are infected with HIV per day. Scientists hope to enroll 5,400 sexually active men and women between the ages of 18 and 35 at 15 sites across the country.

"If an HIV vaccine were found to work in South Africa, it could dramatically alter the course of the pandemic," says Glenda Gray, chief executive officer of the South African Medical Research Council.


The vaccine being tested in South Africa is based on the results of a 2009 trial in Thailand, which had a 31.2% efficacy rate of preventing HIV infection for over 3.5 years after participants received the vaccination.

Scientists in South Africa hope the new vaccine will provide greater and more sustained protection.


The study’s participants will receive injections of either the vaccine or a placebo five times over the course of a year. If any of the participants do become infected with HIV during the study, they’ll be referred to medical providers for treatment and counseling.

"HIV has taken a devastating toll in South Africa, but now we begin a scientific exploration that could hold great promise for our country," says Gray. Over 6.8 million people in the country are currently living with HIV, but continued dedication to a life-saving HIV drug treatment program has paid off.

When the epidemic began to spread rapidly, life expectancy in the country dropped. By 2014, it had rebounded to 62.9 years compared to 57.1 years in 2009.

The new vaccine holds great promise, and we can expect final study results in 2020.

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