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MHRP Marks HIV Vaccine Awareness Day

May 18, 2015
Read the Annual Letter from MHRP Director COL Nelson Michael

The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a stark reminder of the constant threat infectious diseases pose to communities around the world, including  the U.S. Military. If we’d had an effective vaccine against Ebola, much of the pain, suffering and death could have been avoided. 

This experience serves as a reminder of the power of vaccines, which have dramatically reduced the impact of diseases that once afflicted millions such as polio, smallpox, tetanus and measles.  

Since the onset of the HIV epidemic, many of the world’s best scientists have dedicated their lives and careers to finding a vaccine to prevent the disease. Over the last 30 years, the HIV vaccine field has experienced triumph, and disappointment, in the quest to create an effective vaccine. And while it may still take another decade to have a globally effective product, recent advancements give powerful reason for optimism.

First, the science in the HIV vaccine field is accelerating. Much of this has a direct relationship with the Army-led RV144 “Thai Study,” which showed that an HIV vaccine is possible. The results, published in 2009, have had a profound impact on research in the field and are moving us towards improved products. Clinical studies on a similar vaccine began this year in Southern Africa, with hopes that it will show higher efficacy and provide a public health tool for one of the regions of the world hardest hit by HIV.

Second, there is a robust pipeline of vaccine candidates and novel approaches that are under development. From mosaic inserts to novel neutralizing antibodies and live replicating vectors, researchers are exploring new avenues to combat this deadly disease. One of these promising strategies could lead to a globally effective HIV vaccine.

I am extremely encouraged by the new normal of vibrant collaboration that we are witnessing within the HIV research community. No one person, organization, pharmaceutical company or government has the resources, capabilities or expertise needed to field an effective HIV vaccine on its own. Collectively, MHRP and many international groups and institutions are forming partnerships and leveraging their strengths to speed scientific progress.

HIV kills approximately 29,000 people per week. This bitter toll needs to be stopped. Today, on HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, let us redouble our collective efforts towards ending the epidemic by developing a safe, globally effective vaccine.

COL Nelson Michael, MD, Ph.D

Director, U.S. Military HIV Research Program