What makes it so difficult to make an HIV vaccine?

Basically what the OP says. Why is it that we can have vaccines for all of these other diseases, pushing them to the point to where the disease practically doesn’t exist anymore, but we can’t do anything with HIV? I thought that the process was relatively simple - inject someone with dead or severly weakened cells, and let immune system build up resistance.

The HIV is a special kind of virus called a retrovirus. One of the characteristics of this type of virus is that it mutates very very quickly. This is part of the reason why no vaccine has been established so far. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe there have been any vaccines against a retrovirus to date.

Well, no… But long story short, HIV mutates at a very high rate, so it can get around immune reactions. It also hides inside cells where it can be hard to eradicate. And, it infects white blood cells, so as the infection progresses, your immune system gets weaker and weaker.

Is anyone even working on a vaccine these days? I’ve always believed that the big corporate medical companies gave up on developing a vaccine/cure because it was far more profitable to sell people a cocktail for life.

Is anyone even working on a vaccine these days? I’ve always believed that the big corporate medical companies gave up on developing a vaccine/cure because it was far more profitable to sell people a cocktail for life.

Let’s ask Magic Johnson…

There are roughly eight million or so people thought to be infected with AIDS in the US. If you were a big evil medical company, which would you rather do? Sell eight million cocktails for a few years each, or sell a vaccine to every man, woman and child in the born in the country for decades to come?


Eight hundred thousand, not eight million!

Man, that would really suck.

Yeah, China is doing tests right now on a drug.

AIDS infects either through the T4 receptor or the CCR5 receptor, so a vaccine that blocks off these receptors should prevent AIDS from infecting a cell.

Smallpox vaccines can partially cut off the CCR5 receptor.



Peptide T can also block off the CCR5 receptor.


That was supposed to say China is doing tests right now on a vaccine.

Brazil & Italy are working on a vaccine too.

Okie dokie, let’s do the math. For simplicity’s sake, let’s confine it to the U.S.A.:

AIDS Vaccine:
Birth Rate for 2003 (est.) = 14.14 per 1000.
USA Population (July 2005 est.): 295,734,134.
Number of live births per year = 295,734,134 x 0.01414 = 4,181,681
Guesstimating a vaccine cost of $500 (VERY high, but let’s run with it anyway)
= $2,090,840,500 gross profits per year.

AIDS Cocktail:
Using friedo’s cite of 800,000 AIDS victims
x $10,000 annual cost (average based on many cites)
= $8,000,000,000 gross profits per year.

Keep in mind the Cocktail profits will increase every year, as the AIDS virus spreads to more and more people, whereas the Vaccine profits will decrease as the disease becomes more and more scarce.

Well at least SOMEBODY is working on it! (Funny how I don’t see the USA in any of those cites…)

It seems unlikely that HIV vaccinations will be given to infants. The disease is already preventable from vertical transmission with a fairly high level of success, without a vaccine. Infants are not a high-risk population.

So, the numbers to be considered are sexually active adults, and a strong encouragement to vaccinate concentrated populations of high propinquity, such as colleges, and a strong effort to vaccinate IV drug users (Yeah, right, in this country, that ain’t happening). So, the numbers to be vaccinated are probably in the range of 40 to 60 million, not just over four million. And the fact is that a successful vaccination program in the US will result in a worldwide market for the drug as well. You might also consider that the evil drug companies are not going to be left with useless drugs. The drugs used for AIDS treatments do have other applications.

Research is going on, both in the US, and overseas. Vaccination is one area of research, but the actual facts of the infection parameters of HIV make that difficult to accomplish. There are more than twenty sub types of just one of the two strains of HIV that cause disease in humans. Within each sub type the genetic structure changes very rapidly, perhaps as rapidly as every single host. It costs the same to develop a vaccine that will be ineffective six months after it is created but it ends up being useless. In addition, demographic evidence seems to indicate that some of the newer variants are more transmissible by heterosexual contact than the currently more prevalent strains in the US.


“Sic transit gloria mundi. And Tuesday’s usually worse.” ~ Robert A. Heinlein ~

I’m still curious as to how Magic Johnson is not only alive, but in better shape than most people, when he was diagnosed with HIV in 1991.

That’s 14 years that he’s had HIV and not only is he alive (better than many folks do) but apparently in superb health, to the point that he can still play basketball.

I have no idea what Johnson’s specific regimen of care might be, but in general when one is wealthy and famous one is able to access a much wider array of health care products and services than when one is not. Johnson is probably alive in part because of his ability to get the best treatments money can buy.


The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, today announced funding to establish the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology (CHAVI). Barton Haynes, M.D., of Duke University has been selected to lead the CHAVI consortium. The consortium may receive more than $300 million over seven years, $15 million of which is designated for its first year. In its first year, CHAVI will develop an expansion plan that will undergo scrutiny by an external advisory group. CHAVI’s mission is to address key immunological roadblocks to HIV vaccine development and to design, develop and test novel HIV vaccine candidates.

Lots of people all over the world are working on an AIDS vaccine. If anything its nice that the US wasn’t mentioned because with things like polio the US was the only country that made the vaccine.

Now that we live in the 21st century countries like China, India, Brazil, etc are all trying to make vaccines themselves.

I know of at least one Chicago hospital that is doing (IIRC) trials for a HIV vaccine. No idea where else it’s being done in the US.

The virus mutates so easily that even if both members of a couple are HIV+, they’re typically asked to continue practicing safer sex, to hopefully keep them from infecting the other with new mutated strains of the virus. The new mutants may be resistant to various antiretroviral drugs, requiring a change in what meds the person is on.

In fact, mutation is one reason why the importance of adhering to medication schedules is emphasized for people who are on antiretroviral drugs. It’s like why the doctor tells you to finish the whole course of antibiotics when you have a bacterial infection - don’t let any potentially resistant ones reproduce, or you’ll have a resistant strain on the loose in your body.

This is the second time I’ve seen this sort of claim on the boards in the last month. The other one was about cancer. Do you have any sort of information that can support the claim that drug companies are not interested in developing a vaccine/cure?

They are working on a kind of gel that would kill the HIV virus, to be used much like a spermicide. Although it wouldn’t have to contain a spermicide (my understanding is that the spermicide would be optional). It would be for use in Africa where women have the highest risk of infection during marriage, esp. when trying for children. I saw this on a show on PBS, dealing with population demographics changes around the world. Very good show. At any rate, this isn’t a vaccine, and I’m not sure how involved America is in development, but watching it I thought it was certainly a practical, intelligent way to deal with a huge problem.

It probably didn’t hurt, either, that he was an athlete and thus typically more healthy than your average person. Access to good quality medical care surely plays a huge role as well. A single antiretroviral medication could cost a few hundred dollars a month or more, and the typical method these days is to prescribe 3 or so different antiretrovirals at a time, to really knock out the virus from various “angles of attack”, so to speak.

I know someone who was infected probably in the early to mid '80s, if I recall correctly. He’s healthy, he works full-time. I know another gentleman who’s in his 70s who was infected in the mid-'80s, and doing well last I spoke to him. Another guy who’s about 40 shows people a picture of himself weighing 90-some pounds, several years ago, and basically on the edge of death. These days he’s got a very athletic build and looks perfectly healthy. All 3 of those gentlemen have full-blown AIDS, not just HIV infection, and that’s just a few that sprung to mind immediately.

Then again, I also know people who have died from complications from AIDS. So yeah, AIDS isn’t a guaranteed imminent death sentence, but it’s not something to be taken lightly, either. Taking up to dozens of pills a day, some of which are just to counteract the side effects of the antiretroviral meds, isn’t exactly a picnic - and that’s not even mentioning the fear of various opportunistic infections ravaging your body.

Vanderbuilt University, here in Nashville, is working on a vaccine, & is looking for volunteers.