Findings released in late September showed potential benefits of an investigational HIV vaccine.
16,000 people were involved in the three-year study. Roughly half received the vaccine, and the others received a placebo. 74 participants in the placebo group got infected with HIV, compared with 54 in the vaccinated group. The results suggested that the vaccine was 31 percent effective, and were deemed statistically significant. The National Institutes of Health called it a modest preventive benefit.
The vaccine comprised a blend of two previously studied vaccines that had not worked individually. Scientists were encouraged by the data, which stood in stark contrast to the results of prior, failed, vaccine trials.
But questions remain.
If one additional vaccinated participant had been infected with HIV, the results would not have achieved statistical significance. Also, infected patients who got the vaccine did not have lower levels of the virus, compared to those who had received the placebo. That suggests the vaccine may be effective at preventing infection, but not controlling the virus once it enters the body.
Finally, the trial focused on HIV strains common in Southeast Asia, not necessarily in the U.S., and it is unclear whether the results could be replicated Stateside.
Patients should not expect a public health impact from the findings anytime soon. Safe-sex practices and education remain the primary ways to prevent HIV for the foreseeable future.
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