HIV vaccine trial in South Africa ends as results show it doesn’t work

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Cape Town: The latest trial of a vaccine against HIV has failed, with researchers announced they have stopped giving the experimental shots in a major study.

The HVTN study, also called Uhambo, meaning travel or a journey in Zulu, enrolled 5,407 HIV-negative volunteers at 14 sites across South Africa, beginning in 2016. Participants were sexually active men and women aged 18 to 35 years, who were randomly assigned to receive six injections over 18 months of either the investigational vaccine regimen or a placebo.

Last month, monitors checked how the study was going and found 129 HIV infections had occurred among the vaccine recipients compared with 123 among those given a dummy shot, according to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The HIV vaccine that had moved furthest along in human testing does not work, and the $104 million trial in South Africa evaluating it has been stopped early.

The end of the trial taking place in South Africa is a blow to the vaccine field and to Aids experts and advocates. As early as the mid-1980s, the US government was forecasting that Aids would be stopped by a vaccine. In 1997, the then-president Bill Clinton pledged money to an effort to find a vaccine within 10 years. But as the decades have passed, no effective vaccine has been discovered.

The experimental shot was based on the only vaccine ever shown to offer even modest protection against HIV, one that was deemed 31 per cent effective in Thailand.

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