The fight against HIV has always been fought on many fronts, from educating the public, to fighting stigma, to expanding testing, and getting people living with HIV into care and on medication. One avenue that scientists continue to explore is the development of a safe and efficient HIV vaccine, which is essential to ending the pandemic and creating an HIV- and AIDS-free world.
So far, scientific research has been promising and shows that an HIV vaccine is possible. However, the road to discovering a vaccine has not been and will not be an easy one. Since the first HIV vaccine clinical trial was performed 27 years ago, we have been disappointed by many promising investigatory vaccines that ultimately proved ineffective in clinical trials. Creating an HIV vaccine is immensely challenging because unlike many other viruses, it’s extremely genetically diverse and mutates rapidly to evade immune responses. Not only does it take millions of man hours and teams of scientists to research and evaluate the virus, clinical trials of HIV vaccines depend on thousands of people and volunteers.
May 18th is a day to observe and recognize those who devote their time, effort, and lives to developing a vaccine. It’s a day to thank the many volunteers, community members, health professionals, and scientists who work together and educate the community on the importance of preventative HIV and AIDS vaccine research and investing in new technologies.
The origins of the observance day began with a commencement speech made by President Bill Clinton in 1997 at Morgan State University. In the speech, the then-president challenged the scientific community and the graduating class to invest their talents in the discovery of an HIV vaccine. The first HIV Vaccine Awareness day was observed May 18, 1998 to commemorate the anniversary of Clinton’s speech. In an age of emerging new technologies, he spoke about developing a cure in the next coming years, stating that “only a truly effective, preventative HIV vaccine can limit and even eliminate the threat of AIDS.” In the years following Bill Clinton’s speech, there has been both advances and setbacks in the journey to find an HIV vaccine. On this day, we answer the president’s call to action made years ago by showing the world that an HIV vaccine is possible, and look forward to a day in the future free from HIV and AIDS.