Could a Vaccine Fight HIV?

Though HIV drugs have not been able to cure the disease, they have immensely improved the quality of life for many people living with HIV and AIDS. Someone at high risk for HIV can take a pill to help prevent an infection, but they’ll have to take one every day, a method, called PrEP. This method isn’t 100% effective. That’s why researchers are working hard to make an HIV vaccine.

READ ALSO: HIV Screening: Tests That Diagnose HIV

A vaccine is any medication that prevents or controls a specific infection by training the body’s immune system to fight it. Scientists have made vaccines over the years for diseases such as smallpox, measles, typhoid, and influenza. More money has been spent on finding an HIV vaccine than on any other in history.

It’s been decades since the discovery of HIV, yet vaccine has still not been gotten for it. Creating a vaccine is always a very long process. It took exactly 47 years to come up with a polio vaccine.

An HIV vaccine is hard to create because:

  • The HIV virus duplicates itself very quickly.
  • HIV has clever ways of beating the immune system.
  • Many types of HIV exist, and new types keep emerging.

Scientists are still trying to figure out precisely how the immune system could prevent HIV infection. In spite of the complex challenges, many researchers are hopeful about the prospects of an HIV vaccine.

Two Kinds of Vaccines

Preventive vaccines: These vaccines train your immune system to recognize and combat HIV before the virus causes a long-term infection and makes you ill. They’re for people who are HIV-negative.

READ ALSO: Researchers Develop Vaginal Implant That Can Protect Women From HIV

Bhey don’t contain any live virus, these vaccines can’t give you HIV. But they might prompt your immune system to make antibodies that would show up on a blood test and give you a false positive result.

Therapeutic vaccines: These help control infection and delay the advancement of the disease. They work by ramping up your immune system to find and kill HIV-infected cells and by preventing or limiting HIV from duplicating itself. They’re being tested in people who are already HIV-positive but who have healthy immune systems.

Vaccine Testing and Clinical Trials

HIV vaccines are first tested in labs and animals. Then, a single HIV vaccine could take years of testing in humans before it would be approved for the public use.

A vaccine to prevent HIV typically goes through three phases of clinical trials to test its safety and efficacy. People in all three phases are supposed to keep practicing safe sex. They’re not intentionally exposed to HIV after they’ve been vaccinated.

Each phase must go well in order to move on to the next one.

  • Phase I lasts between 12 and 18 months. Small numbers of healthy, HIV-negative volunteers help researchers test the safety and figure out best doses.
  • Phase II can last up to 2 years. Hundreds of healthy, HIV-negative volunteers help researchers to refine dosing and test how well the immune system responds.
  • Phase III can last 3 to 4 years with thousands of healthy, HIV-negative volunteers.

Positive Signs

Certain people don’t get infected by HIV, even after they’ve been exposed to it more than once. Others who do get infected don’t seem to be affected for a decade or longer. These examples suggest that some immune systems are able to fight HIV.

In test tube studies, rare antibodies do work against HIV.

Vaccines have successfully protected monkeys against a relative of HIV. Even when the vaccines haven’t completely protected the monkeys, they allowed them to live much longer.

Finding out what’s working in these cases could provide clues for the development of an HIV vaccine.

Vaccines You Need if You Have HIV or AIDS

For those infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) or AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), you should take special precautions against other infections, such as the flu because HIV makes it difficult for your immune system to fight them. Immunizations can help your body defend itself against some of these infections.

READ ALSO: Early Symptoms of HIV: Symptoms in Men and Women

Not all vaccines are safe for people with HIV/AIDS. Vaccines made from live viruses should not be administered to persons with CD4 counts less than 200 because they contain a weak form of the germ and may cause a mild case of the disease. Fortunately, most of the vaccines for people with HIV/AIDS are “inactivated” vaccines, which don’t contain a living germ.

Vaccine Side Effects and HIV/AIDS

Anyone, regardless of their HIV status, is at risk of side effects associated with vaccines. These effects may include: fatigue, pain, redness or inflammation at the place you receive the shot.

If you have HIV/AIDS, additional considerations about vaccines include:

  • Vaccines may increase your viral load
  • Vaccines may not work if your CD4 count is very low. If your CD4 count is low, it may help to take strong antiretroviral medications before receiving some of the vaccines.
  • Vaccines made from a live virus may cause you to get the disease the vaccine is supposed to prevent. If your CD4 count is low, you should avoid live vaccines, such as chickenpox, measles/mumps/rubella(MMR), and the flu vaccine in the form of a nose spray. Also, avoid close contact with anyone who has had a live vaccine in the past two or three weeks.
  • Vaccines may increase your viral load, although this is of little consequence in persons receiving antiretroviral therapy.

What Kinds of Vaccines Do People With HIV Need?

Vaccine/disease Dosage Recommendations
Hepatitis B virus (HBV)


three shots over six months
  • Receive unless you are a hepatitis B carrier or immunity is present.
  • After the series is completed, get a blood test to check for immunity. If it’s too low, you may need extra shots.
Influenza (flu) one shot
  • Receive injectable flu vaccine only.
  • Repeat every year by mid-November for best protection.
Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) (live virus vaccine) two shots over one month
  • Not needed, if you were born before 1957
  • Receive only if your CD4 cell count is above 200.
  • You can receive individual components separately.
Polysaccharide pneumococcal (pneumonia) one or two shots
  • Receive soon after HIV diagnosis, unless you’ve been vaccinated within the last five years.
  • Effective within two to three weeks.
  • If given when CD4 count is less than 200, repeat once CD4 count reaches 200.
  • Repeat every five years.
Pneumococcal (pneumonia) conjugate vaccine (PCV13) one shot
Pneumococcal (pneumonia) polysaccharide vaccine(PPSV23) one shot
  • Receive soon after HIV diagnosis, but wait 2 months after receiving PCV13
  • If your CD4 count is less than 200, consider waiting to receive this vaccine until your CD4 count is above 200 on antiretroviral therapy.
  • Repeat after five years and one more time (if 5 years have elapsed since the last dose) at age 65
Tetanus and diphtheria toxoid (Td) or Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussus) one shot
  • Repeat every 10 years.
    • Get it earlier if you have an injury such as a cut that requires stitches.


Source: Webmd


Disclaimer: The content provided on is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical doctor or healthcare professional.

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