JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Twenty years after HIV and AIDS first began to be understood by the medical community, there is still no vaccine to prevent the spread of the disease. In fact, promising clinical trials have slowed and there is no credible expectation about when there will be a marketable vaccine in the future. It's a huge blow to those hoping to slow the spread of the disease.
"There's a dark cloud over HIV vaccine research right now," said Dr. Carl Abraham, Infectious Diseases Specialist. "The results of a study by Merck was disappointing."
It's so disappointing that the clinical trials on a vaccine to prevent HIV conducted by the corporation was the subject of a report in the New England Journal of Medicine: entitled "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back--Will There Ever Be an AIDS Vaccine?"
Merck prematurely called a halt to its international clinical trials when it was discovered 49 subjects actually contracted HIV after receiving the vaccine.
"The vaccine may have actually increased the risk of aquiring HIV infection as opposed to a placebo," said Dr. Abraham. "The vaccine itself did not contain HIV so instead of protecting people at high risk, it did not work and may actually have increased the risk."
Because of that, another study that was sponsored by the National Institutes for Health was pulled because the study was to have used a vaccine that was similar to the vaccine in the study that was conducted by Merck.
"This was a huge disappointment," said Dr. Abraham. "There was quite a bit of anticipation as far as the vaccine. It had actually shown pretty good activity in preliminary studies."
Meanwhile, the AIDS epidemic continues to decimate third world countries. In the South African city of Soweto, 30 to 40 graves are dug every Saturday for AIDS victims. While modern medicine has prolonged lives and made AIDS a chronic disease in the United States, the same can't be said here.
"The economy of Africa is crumbling because of HIV," said Dr. Abraham. "Hundreds of thousand of orphans. You can imagine what that does to countries that have limited resources to begin with. Hope on the horizon for fighting HIV is distant."
Dr. Harriet Robinson is a scientist working at the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta. She tells us the vaccine she is working on called, "Geo Vax" is moving faster than she and her colleagues expected. But, she said it will take time and that good progress is being made.
"By most estimates a vaccine won't be available for 5 to 10 years," said Dr. Abraham.
And that's precious time when you consider HIV continues to spread with every minute of every day.