13 September 2011
Two years ago, the AIDS community was electrified by news that a vaccine had partially protected people against HIV. Now this vaccine will be tested in South Africa.
This is according to scientists attending the International AIDS Vaccine conference, which opened yesterday (Monday) in Bangkok.
South Africa will be the first country outside of Thailand to have access to the only vaccine in 30 years to show any success against the virus that has killed millions of people, particularly in southern Africa.
The vaccine, known as RV144, protected 31 percent of the people who received it in a massive clinical trial in Thailand involving 16 400 people.
“The next step after the Thai trial was to rapidly test the vaccine in a country with a high incidence of HIV to see whether it would have the same results,” said Wits University’s Professor Glenda Gray.
“But there are a lot of challenges that have delayed the process since the results were announced two years ago,” added Gray, who will lead the RV144 vaccine research when it starts in South Africa.
A key challenge has been to modify the Thai vaccine to fight the strain of HIV that is most common in South Africa.
Vaccines work by teaching a person’s immune systems to recognise and destroy disease-causing pathogens (viruses and bacteria).
The Thai trial combined two vaccines. The first aimed to prime people’s immune systems to recognise the types of HIV most common in Thailand (sub-types E and B), and the other, injected later, aimed at boosting their immune systems to fight infection.
If such a vaccine reached 60 percent of the South African population, it could prevent over three million HIV infections in the country over 10 years