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Why is making an HIV vaccine harder than making one for COVID-19?

Why is making an HIV vaccine harder than making one for COVID-19?

This article was published on
October 4, 2021

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There is no Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) vaccine currently available to prevent HIV or treat people who have the virus. There are several reasons why the production of HIV vaccines are taking longer than ones for other viruses such as SARS-COV-2. Namely, HIV is a more difficult organism to make a vaccine against.

There is no Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) vaccine currently available to prevent HIV or treat people who have the virus. There are several reasons why the production of HIV vaccines are taking longer than ones for other viruses such as SARS-COV-2. Namely, HIV is a more difficult organism to make a vaccine against.

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What our experts say

There is no Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) vaccine currently available to prevent HIV or treat people who have the virus. However, scientists are working tirelessly to develop one. The National Health Institute (NIH) invests in multiple research efforts towards this endeavor. For example, there is an ongoing multinational vaccine clinical trial called the Mosaico.

The Mosaico clinical trial is being conducted in North and South America and Europe. It tests the safety and efficacy of HIV vaccine regimens among men who have sex with men, bisexual men, and transgender women. The results of this trial are expected in 2022 to 2023.

There are several reasons why the production of HIV vaccines are taking longer than ones for other viruses such as SARS-COV-2. Namely, HIV is a more difficult organism to make a vaccine against. These are some of the specifics around why it’s hard to make an HIV vaccine:

  1. HIV infects people by integrating itself into existing cells in our bodies. Since it latches onto our own bodies, it’s invisible to our immune system. It’s hard to design a vaccine smart enough to target a virus disguised as our own cells.
  2. The immune system reacts to one component of the COVID-19 virus: the spike protein. There is not a similar component of HIV that can be targeted the same way.
  3. HIV also has way more variants and more capacity to mutate than SARS-COV-2, making it harder to target with a vaccine.

The COVID-19 vaccines were also developed under massive international collaboration, with unprecedented funding, and built off of existing ongoing research into vaccines for coronaviruses.

There is no Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) vaccine currently available to prevent HIV or treat people who have the virus. However, scientists are working tirelessly to develop one. The National Health Institute (NIH) invests in multiple research efforts towards this endeavor. For example, there is an ongoing multinational vaccine clinical trial called the Mosaico.

The Mosaico clinical trial is being conducted in North and South America and Europe. It tests the safety and efficacy of HIV vaccine regimens among men who have sex with men, bisexual men, and transgender women. The results of this trial are expected in 2022 to 2023.

There are several reasons why the production of HIV vaccines are taking longer than ones for other viruses such as SARS-COV-2. Namely, HIV is a more difficult organism to make a vaccine against. These are some of the specifics around why it’s hard to make an HIV vaccine:

  1. HIV infects people by integrating itself into existing cells in our bodies. Since it latches onto our own bodies, it’s invisible to our immune system. It’s hard to design a vaccine smart enough to target a virus disguised as our own cells.
  2. The immune system reacts to one component of the COVID-19 virus: the spike protein. There is not a similar component of HIV that can be targeted the same way.
  3. HIV also has way more variants and more capacity to mutate than SARS-COV-2, making it harder to target with a vaccine.

The COVID-19 vaccines were also developed under massive international collaboration, with unprecedented funding, and built off of existing ongoing research into vaccines for coronaviruses.

Context and background

As of July 2021, there were eight COVID-19 vaccines approved for use and about 30 more undergoing efficacy testing. There have been seven efficacy trials of an HIV vaccine in the past 20 years of HIV vaccine research, and no approved HIV vaccine yet. In addition, only one of these seven vaccines gave a (weak) signal of efficacy. Currently, there is one ongoing clinical trial, the Mosaico, which will assess whether the vaccine regimen designed to induce immune responses against a variety of global HIV strains can safely and effectively prevent the virus. 

As of July 2021, there were eight COVID-19 vaccines approved for use and about 30 more undergoing efficacy testing. There have been seven efficacy trials of an HIV vaccine in the past 20 years of HIV vaccine research, and no approved HIV vaccine yet. In addition, only one of these seven vaccines gave a (weak) signal of efficacy. Currently, there is one ongoing clinical trial, the Mosaico, which will assess whether the vaccine regimen designed to induce immune responses against a variety of global HIV strains can safely and effectively prevent the virus. 

Resources

  1. HIV vaccines and immunotherapies: Quo Vadis?  (https://theprogramme.ias2021.org/Programme/Session/69)  
  2. NIH and Partners to launch HIV Vaccine Efficacy Trial in the Americas and Europe  (NIH and Partners to Launch HIV Vaccine Efficacy Trial in the Americas and Europe
  3. Defining the Immune Response for SARS-Cov-2-Human Macrophage interactions (Defining the Immune Responses for SARS-CoV-2-Human Macrophage interactions)  
  4. Primate immunodeficiency virus classification and nomenclature : Review (Primate immunodeficiency virus classification and nomenclature: Review )  
  5. World Health Organization Global Vaccine Market Report (World Health Organizations
  6. Scaling up covid-19 vaccine production: What are the problems and implications? (The BMJ Opinion)
  1. HIV vaccines and immunotherapies: Quo Vadis?  (https://theprogramme.ias2021.org/Programme/Session/69)  
  2. NIH and Partners to launch HIV Vaccine Efficacy Trial in the Americas and Europe  (NIH and Partners to Launch HIV Vaccine Efficacy Trial in the Americas and Europe
  3. Defining the Immune Response for SARS-Cov-2-Human Macrophage interactions (Defining the Immune Responses for SARS-CoV-2-Human Macrophage interactions)  
  4. Primate immunodeficiency virus classification and nomenclature : Review (Primate immunodeficiency virus classification and nomenclature: Review )  
  5. World Health Organization Global Vaccine Market Report (World Health Organizations
  6. Scaling up covid-19 vaccine production: What are the problems and implications? (The BMJ Opinion)

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