Merck HIV Vaccine Fails, Politics Prevails

Merck HIV Vaccine Fails, Politics Prevails
by Barbara Loe Fisher

The recent news that Merck has canceled clinical trials of an experimental HIV vaccine, which was announced after more people who got vaccinated in the trials became infected with HIV than those who remained unvaccinated, is the latest in a series of experimental HIV vaccine trial failures over the past decade.

In 1997, then-President Clinton declared that America must make it a national mission to create an AIDS vaccine by 2007 just like America made it a national mission to send a man to the moon in the 1950's and 60's. A decade ago some scientists, like microbiologist Howard Urnovitz, Ph.D., were warning that it may be impossible to create a vaccine "against a human gene" referring to the fact that HIV appeared to be a simian/human genetic hybrid virus created when experimental polio vaccines derived from SIV contaminated monkey tissues were injected or swallowed by millions of unsuspecting Africans in the 1950's and 60's. Others warned that HIV mutates easily and takes a different form in every individual, making it unlikely any HIV vaccine will be effective. There was also the warning that those who get vaccinated will always test positive for HIV.

But the AIDS vaccine crusade had officially begun and there was a rush to get funding for the testing of experimental HIV vaccines.

Mandatory vaccination proponents and policymakers also began seriously thinking about testing HIV vaccines on children in preparation for the targeting of adolescents for vaccines to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. At the February 12, 1997 meeting of the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), Neal Halsey, M.D., then-chairman of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases, reminded his colleagues in industry that "One of the things that's happened in the past with vaccines is that sometimes the manufacturers have developed them and tested them primarily in an age group or a population which may not be the final target population that this Committee has considered. Over the last few years we have developed a statement on adolescent immunization and it probably would be worth your reading that, and others, because we really see age 11 to 12 as the target age for introduction of vaccines for prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. And I know that, at this time, you are really studying adults and you're also some distance away from the actual - having a [HIV] vaccine in hand that might be licensed and approved - but at least it would be nice if there were studies that were planned in parallel when you move another step in the direction of actually having a candidate vaccine, realizing where WE think we would want to use universal application of such a vaccine."

Last year at this time, Dr. Halsey's exhortation from a decade earlier was echoed by a press release from a hospital affiliated with Brown Medical School, which is a site for experimental HIV vaccine trials for adults in the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN). In the press release, the Boston Celtics Foundation announced the launching of a "Team Vaccinates Teens" program with a grant for the "first program in the country that will test and explore vaccine delivery strategies to adolescents." Adolescent girls were urged to get Merck's "highly safe and effective" HPV vaccine, GARDASIL. They said the goal was "for researchers to learn what structures are effective for engaging youth in an extended vaccination program, creating a model that will eventually allow for delivery of an HIV vaccine once one become available." They said "the adolescents targeted in Team Vaccinates Teens are also potential candidates for future HIV vaccine trials."
There are about 30 experimental HIV vaccines in clinical trials in the U.S. and around the world and the development of an HIV vaccine will continue. However, hopefully this latest development in the crusade to bring an HIV to market will prompt even stronger informed consent protections in all clinical trials as well as a serious re-evaluation of other ways to address chronic illness associated with AIDS. Creation of an HIV vaccine is a dream for many suffering with or seeing a loved one suffer with HIV- related illness, but there are legitimate concerns about whether mass, mandatory use of an HIV vaccine could cause more harm than the elusive microorganism being targeted for elimination.

At the very least, our children should not be pulled into this scientific chaos - either in experimental HIV vaccine clinical trials or in future government "adolescent vaccine platform" planning. Many parents have already decided that 56 doses of 16 vaccines by age 12 is quite enough, thank you.

What is needed is a robust public debate about why our children are being automatically targeted for future use of every new vaccine scientists and drug companies create and market, especially a vaccine that could be as potentially risky and ineffective as one created for HIV. In the meantime, informed consent protections in the form of conscientious belief exemption to vaccination should be instituted in every state as soon as possible.

1 comment:

sweber said...

Thank you so much for the work you do. I am a mother of two and refuse to allow drug companies to experiment with my children. The level of ignorance in this matter astounds me. A child can have an abortion with out telling their parents, but we are 'forced' to allow them to be shot up with unknown chemical coctails??!! I am trying to educate my friends and family. I am putting together a report with info from many web sites, reports, and the drug companies themselves.
Keep up the good work, we are watching!!