These past few years we have seen vaccines developed, tested and distributed in record times in response to global epidemics, but we are still falling short of a vaccine for HIV, which has been researched and promised for almost quarter-century.
So how do vaccines work anyway?
Vaccines are made from antigens — dead or weakened viruses that cause the disease — that cause your body to make antibodies that fight that specific virus. Your immune system is then able to recognize and fight off the infection if you come into contact with the virus.
HIV doesn’t seem to activate the antibody making process, which leaves researchers still trying to find the right kind of immune response.
Unlike other vaccines, a vaccine for HIV must respond to the rapid mutation of the HIV-1 virus spike protein and allow antibodies to attach. This has been one of the challenges in developing an HIV vaccine. COVID-19 similarly needed a vaccine that attached to the spike protein, but unlike HIV, while the virus continues to mutate, the spike protein remains the same allowing the COVID-19 vaccine to respond effectively to prevent and lessen the virus.
There are currently two ways HIV vaccines are being researched, therapeutic HIV vaccine and preventive HIV vaccine.
So if not now, when?
The real question we are all wondering: How soon will there be an HIV vaccine? There are still significant barriers to creating an HIV vaccine, but we saw how COVID-19 was able to produce an effective vaccine with similar technology, which leaves researchers hopeful that we are close. Researchers say that even with barriers, they are hopeful that within the next decade we will see an effective HIV vaccine.
Vaccines have been the most effective means to prevent and eradicate infectious diseases. With an HIV vaccine we can end the HIV epidemic and save millions of lives.