By Venita Ray, Public Affairs Specialist
HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (HVAD) is observed annually on May 18th to recognize and thank all the dedicated individuals working to find a safe and effective preventive HIV vaccine. It is also a day to educate about the importance of preventive HIV vaccine research.
I had never heard of HVAD until recently. I had heard about work being done to develop a vaccine but never thought much about it. I did some research and emailed a few folks working in research to see if they had ever participated in HVAD. No one had ever acknowledged or participated in the HVAD events.
I am a woman living with HIV and I work with advocates, physicians, legislators, and a wide variety of organizations across the country on HIV treatment, prevention, policy and research. We often talk about a cure but never about a vaccine.
After some digging, I discovered that researchers from around the world have been working for more than two decades to develop a vaccine to protect people from HIV. Historically, vaccines have been the most effective means to prevent and even eradicate infectious diseases. Vaccines are generally safe and cost-effective. Like smallpox and polio vaccines, a preventive HIV vaccine could help save millions of lives.
The National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and others have sponsored clinical trials that have yielded mixed but hopeful results.
I am grateful that we now have many tools to fight HIV. For those of us living with HIV, viral suppression or treatment as prevention is one of the ways we support prevention efforts. For people who are HIV negative, Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a pill that can be taken daily to prevent HIV prior to exposure. Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PeP) is effective at preventing HIV if taken within 72 hours of exposure. Condoms and other barriers are effective when used properly and consistently but we know that this does not always happen. But a vaccine that would prevent HIV would be the ultimate addition to our prevention tool box!
Scientists engaged in vaccine research believe that the only guarantee of a sustained end of the AIDS pandemic lies in a combination of non-vaccine prevention methods and the development and deployment of a safe and sufficiently effective HIV vaccine.
Now that I know about HIV Vaccine Awareness Day and all of the work being done, I too want to thank all of the dedicated individuals who have been diligently working to develop a vaccine to prevent HIV transmission. Now, I not only dream of a cure, I have hope for a vaccine as well.