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World AIDS Vaccine Day 2021: HIV Vaccine Myths And Facts

Every year, 18 May is observed as World AIDS Vaccine Day globally. The day is also known as HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. This initiative is directed towards raising awareness regarding the requirement of HIV vaccines to prevent HIV infection and AIDS.

The concept of World AIDS Vaccine Day is rooted in an 18 May 1997 commencement speech at Morgan State University made by then-US President Bill Clinton. The first World AIDS Vaccine Day was observed on 18 May 1998 to commemorate the anniversary of Clinton's speech, and the tradition continues today.

World AIDS Vaccine Day theme for 2021is 'Global solidarity, shared responsibility.

Let's take a look at some of the common HIV vaccine myths and the facts behind them.

HIV/AIDS Vaccine Myths And Facts

There is currently no vaccine available that will prevent HIV infection or treat those who have it. However, scientists are working to develop one. The NIAID-funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) is the world's largest publicly funded collaboration to develop a vaccine for HIV/AIDS [1].

Since its inception in 1999, more than 80 clinical trials have been conducted in more than a dozen countries, involving more than 22,000 study participants.

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Myth 1: An HIV vaccine already exists.

Fact: No. There is no licensed vaccine against HIV or AIDS, but scientists are getting closer, states a recent study published on 12 April 2021. The vaccine would be only the first in a series of injections to create immunity against the virus [2].

Myth 2: HIV vaccines can give people HIV.

Fact: No. There is a common misconception that one can get HIV from the study HIV vaccines which are rooted in the idea that some vaccines, like those for typhoid or polio, may contain a weak form of the virus they are protecting against, but this is not the case for HIV vaccines [3].

Myth 3: A person must be HIV-positive (infected) to be in an HIV vaccine study.

Fact: Not really. While some research groups are conducting studies of vaccines that might be used in people infected with HIV, the vaccines being tested by the HVTN are preventive vaccines. They must be tested on volunteers who are not infected with HIV [4].

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Myth 4: There are pills that can prevent HIV infection, so an HIV vaccine is no longer necessary.

Fact: HIV-negative people who are at high risk can take antiretroviral medication daily to lower the risk of getting infected through a type of therapy called PrEP, short for PreExposure Prophylaxis [5].

Myth 5: An HIV vaccine is unnecessary because AIDS is easily treated and controlled, just like diabetes.

Fact: Studies point out that, in the last 30 years, the treatment for AIDS has dramatically improved. However, that is no substitute for prevention. Current HIV medications are expensive and have many side effects [6].

Myth 6: Vaccines cause autism and just aren't safe.

Fact: False. There is no link between childhood vaccination and autism. Indeed, vaccines often have side effects. Still, those are typically temporary, like a sore arm, low fever, muscle aches and pains [7]. The claim that vaccines and autism are interlinked were proven to be false, and the British doctor who originally published the finding of vaccines and autism has since been found to have falsified his data [8].

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Myth 7: Joining an HIV-vaccine study is like being a guinea pig.

Fact: Not at all. Study participants have the freedom to opt-out of the study whenever they feel like it. All study volunteers must go through informed consent that ensures they understand all the risks and benefits of being in a study. Those volunteers are reminded that they may leave a study at any time without losing rights or benefits [9].

Myth 8: People who aren't at risk don't need an HIV vaccine.

Fact: A person may not be at risk for HIV today, but the risk is always there. A preventive HIV vaccine may also be important for children or other family members and friends [10].

On A Final Note...

The one prominent question in the current times is that 'why don't we have one after 37 years when we have several for COVID-19 after a few months?' The reason behind this is the complexity of HIV, which has an incredible ability to shield itself from recognition by antibodies. Moreover, HIV is not one single virus. It is like 50 million different viruses with different properties.

HIV is continually evolving within a single infected individual to stay one step ahead of the immune responses, making the vaccine development a complex and arduous one.

Story first published: Tuesday, May 18, 2021, 21:40 [IST]
Read more about: hiv aids vaccine