Every December 1st, the world commemorates those who died of an AIDS-related illness. Known as World AIDS Day, it is a reminder that there has been an ongoing pre-Covid pandemic for the past 40 years.
The Covid vaccines were sequenced, developed and approved in record time in the US, but that would not have been possible without decades of work by HIV researchers.
“Almost everyone who works on Covid vaccines is from the HIV world,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC, a global advocacy group for HIV prevention. “Moderna had been working on an mRNA-based HIV vaccine before it was even known that SARS-CoV-2 existed.”
An HIV vaccine has escaped scientists for decades. The traditional way of thinking about vaccines is to mimic the body’s natural immune response to a virus. The problem with HIV is that the body’s natural immune response isn’t strong enough to fight the virus. This means that a vaccine needs to address the problem in a different way. Scientists hope mRNA technology – the same technology used in Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid vaccines – could be a tipping point.
Government funding is an integral part of all vaccine research and development. In just a few months, Operation Warp Speed provided $ 10 billion for Covid vaccine research and development. In contrast, between 2000 and 2020, the US government contributed $ 12 billion to research and development of HIV vaccines. These funds often go to private companies.
“Almost every vaccine we get today was developed by a private company, although the actual research and development may have been a joint venture,” said Dr. Jeffrey Harris, Co-Founder of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network.
Public-private partnerships can have a serious impact on who makes a profit and who ultimately gets access to the vaccine. Moderna and the National Institutes of Health are currently locked in a lawsuit on a key patent for the Moderna Covid vaccine.
Watch the video above to learn what the success of Covid mRNA vaccines means for HIV and who would benefit from an HIV vaccine.