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Last week, the US government halted a large HIV vaccine study as the experimental injections were not successful in preventing infection. The National Institutes of Health added that the injections did nothing to improve the wellbeing of those already affected, as they did nothing to reduce the amount of the Aids virus in their blood. Dr Anthony Fauci, head of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases commented that the failings of the study are “disappointing” but the good news is that the study generated “important information” which will help wellness experts determine what to try next.
Since 2009, the study had enrolled 2,504 volunteers, mostly gay men, in 19 cities. Half of the participants were given dummy shots, while the other half received a two-part experimental vaccine developed by the NIH. Alongside this, the volunteers were given free condoms and extensive counseling about sexual health and the risks of HIV. The vaccine was supposed to train your T cells (immune cells) to spot and attack the very earliest HIV-infected cells in your body, in order to prevent HIV infection, or help you to fight it once you are infected.
Though it’s not clear why, slightly more study participants who had received the vaccine later became infected with HIV. This was discovered as a result of a safety review this week, although the small difference may mean that this is simply due to chance. The researchers investigated the participants diagnosed after being in the study for at least 28 weeks, which is long enough for the shots to have done their job, and found that there were 27 HIV infections among the vaccinated and 21 among the placebo recipients.
One of the participants who became infected with HIV commented that he was happy he had taken part because its close monitoring meant he was diagnosed and treated much sooner than most people. Josh Robbins, 30, of Nashville, Tennessee, said, ‘We’ve got to keep moving forward.’ The study ‘certainly can lead us down a new direction to hopefully find something that might work.’ Even though the vaccine study has been stopped, the researchers will continue to follow up the participants health outcomes.