n HIV vaccine that has the potential to end the Aids epidemic in South Africa is currently being tested in six sites countrywide.
If all goes well in the followup trials set to begin late next year, the vaccine could be available for general use by 2019.
More than 250 people have been enrolled in the trial (of HVTN 100) that began in January and is expected to be completed by the end of this year. It is being conducted by the HIV Vaccine Trial Network and the Medical Research Council.
Participants have been given a modified version of the so-called Thai vaccine to test it for safety and ascertain whether the medicinal regimen induces the predicted immune system response.
The Thai – or RV144 – vaccine made headlines worldwide in 2009 when there was evidence that it could offer protection against HIV infection by up to 31% when tested in Thailand. The findings were hailed as a breakthrough in the decades-long struggle to develop an effective vaccine.
The vaccine had to be tested as part of confirmatory trials in various parts of the world.
South Africa tested it in 2013 to see whether South Africans would have the same immune response to RV144 as that witnessed in Thailand. Trials were conducted at three sites (Soweto, Klerksdorp and Cape Town).
The reason for testing the immune response instead of its effectiveness in HIV-infection prevention is physiological aspects such as gender, age, ethnicity and body mass index often affect individual responses. Women, for instance, respond better to vaccines than men, while heavy drinkers and obese people don’t respond as well.
The results of the 2013 South African trial, HVTN 097, were pleasing. The immune response of South Africans was as good, if not better, than that of the Thais, despite differences in ethnicity and high levels of obesity in the 100 people who participated in