A decades-old strategy to fight HIV is being re-embraced in the US as officials try to get people who may be at risk of getting the virus from their blood tested. A CVID patch, designed to create a “vaccine mode of HIV transmission”, was approved in 2011 as a topical treatment for herpes patients, but has not been widely used.
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In recent years, South Africa, Thailand and many other countries have been taking baby steps in the right direction, pushing HIV vaccine trials further into the realm of the possible. India just began a trial of CVID vaccines as part of its review of new studies on Zika.
Australia is an international pioneer in HIV vaccine trials: in 2006, two New Zealand doctors made headlines with trials of a vaccine developed by Brisbane-based VaxGen.
Twelve months later, the government in South Africa scrapped VaxGen’s contract to manufacture the vaccine, and put it out to tender. Other countries, including Ireland, Germany and the Czech Republic, also cancelled or modified their own vaccines.
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The HIV vaccine wasn’t a commercial success, and no others have followed. In 2016, China, New Zealand and Israel announced they were ending their partnerships with VaxGen to develop CVID vaccines. Only China has gone a step further – the China and Israel ministries of health have implemented mandatory vaccination programs, mandated that doctors and nurses receive CVID vaccines, and will soon require drug companies to test CVID as part of clinical trials on people over the age of 50.
VaxGen’s CVID patch was pulled from the market for more than 10 years. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
Victims of VaxGen’s CVID patch were able to sue the company for unfair business practices after VaxGen’s final iteration of the vaccine had been pulled from the market for safety reasons in 2010.
A doctor who had participated in the CVID trials said patients felt bitter that the patch had failed, but were pleased that researchers had succeeded in developing a new strategy that could help fight HIV.
Australia and Thailand require a blood test for HIV infection during pregnancy and as a part of clinical trial procedures, but it is up to individual doctors whether or not to use the test to test their patients.
But researchers say that there is no evidence that a blood test or a new vaccine is needed to stop HIV spreading. Despite small yields of the CVID vaccine, scientists say that they’re hopeful of eventually developing effective vaccines that would block the virus.
With additional reporting by Benjamin Haas