In search for an HIV vaccine, all is not doom and gloom

Thursday, December 24, 2009

We have a very different perspective than the Dec. 16 editorial "The incurable epidemic," which suggested that scientists are not making progress in the search for an HIV vaccine or microbicide.

The search for a safe and effective method to prevent HIV infection and AIDS is a long journey in which we should expect both success and failure.

The results of the microbicide trial announced last week are a disappointment. But it is unrealistic to expect that every trial will lead to a desired result. More important, as noted in your editorial, "after more than two decades of failure a vaccine clinical trial has shown a measure of protection against HIV infection for the first time."

The results of a Thai HIV vaccine trial, announced in September, open a new chapter in HIV vaccine research. Even a partially effective vaccine is a source of encouragement for the field. The results provide critical proof that it is possible to develop a vaccine that can confer protection against HIV infection. Although the level of protection was modest (26 to 31 percent), this is something we can build upon.

Contrary to the impression given by the editorial, this is a dynamic and productive time in HIV prevention research.

Alan Bernstein, New York

Rafi Ahmed, Atlanta

Dr. Bernstein is executive director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise; Dr. Ahmed is director of the Emory Vaccine Center and science committee chairman of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company