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HIV vaccine

There is currently no vaccine for HIV, but researchers have been trying to make one for many years. 

There have been two vaccine trials so far, but neither gave promising results. Another is ongoing. 

It is hoped that an effective vaccine will be available by 2030, but it is not yet clear if this is realistic. 

What are vaccines?

A vaccine is a safe artificial way of protecting you from a disease before you are exposed to it.  

Your immune system is the part of your body that fights infection and stops you getting sick. Vaccines make your immune system produce antibodies which fight off a disease if you get infected with it after having the vaccine. 

Is there a vaccine for HIV?

No, not yet. But researchers have been working for 30 years to make a vaccine that can prevent HIV.  

When will there be a vaccine for HIV?

It is very difficult to say. An HIV vaccine is a more realistic prospect today than a decade ago. An optimistic forecast is that one might be available by 2030. 

Why are we trying to make a vaccine?

A vaccine for HIV could save millions of lives by stopping people getting infected with HIV. It is a safe, cost-effective way to prevent the virus from spreading. Preventing HIV in the first place is better than treating it once someone gets it. 

What are scientists working on for a vaccine?

Scientists are working on a vaccine that would teach the immune system to respond to HIV. It might do this in two ways: 

  1. By making antibodies that can bind to the virus and stop it from infecting cells. 

  1. By promoting other immune responses that kill the virus. 

What should I do until there is a vaccine?

Until there is a vaccine, it’s important that you: 

  • take steps to prevent HIV if you are HIV-negative 

  • take treatment if you are HIV-positive.  

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Why is it so hard to make a vaccine for HIV?

Researchers have been working on an HIV vaccine since the 1980s, but progress has been much slower than anticipated. 

One reason is the speed at which HIV mutates. Most vaccines against other diseases stimulate the production of antibodies. These antibodies ‘neutralise’ the virus. But in the case of HIV, neutralising antibodies do not clear the infection.  

This is because HIV reproduces so fast and mutates so quickly. Antibodies produced against the virus quickly become ineffective against newer viruses. Millions of new viruses are produced each day and each one is slightly different from previous generations of the virus. Antibodies against HIV are only likely to be effective if they can bind to regions of the virus that vary little between viruses. 

Another reason is that there are several sub-types of HIV. Each one is concentrated a particular region of the world. A vaccine must be effective against all sub-types, or different vaccines must be developed against various sub-types. 

Why is finding a vaccine important for the HIV response?

Finding a vaccine is important because the ultimate aim is to stop transmission of HIV. 

Prevention and treatment efforts in some regions of the world have helped slow transmission, but not completely. Part of the reason why is that not everyone has access to treatment or prevention methods (like condoms).  

A vaccine would be a more effective way to prevent HIV among populations where other methods have not been effective. But, a combination of HIV prevention methods will still be needed, such as using the vaccine alongside condoms, PrEP, PEP, voluntary medical male circumcision and others. 

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