Dear PoP – HIV Vaccine Awareness Day on May 18

Photo from PoPville flickr user iván.sciupac

“Dear PoP,

HIV Vaccine Awareness Day Honors Vaccine Trial Participants
By David Mariner

In the United States and around the world, more than 28,000 dedicated men and
women have literally rolled up their sleeves and joined the fight against HIV/AIDS by
participating in an HIV vaccine study. Scientists, researchers and community activists
are often the most recognized names and faces in the fight against HIV/AIDS. But often
missing from the story are the volunteers who participate in clinical trials, providing the
critical link that allows researchers to see how the human body reacts to potential
vaccines that may protect against this deadly virus.

Here in DC, an estimated one in 30 adults is infected, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. We have of the highest rates of infection in the country, and higher prevalence than Ethiopia, Rwanda or Nigeria.

On May 18, HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, DC honors all the people involved in the many aspects of HIV vaccine research, and particularly thanks those trial participants who dedicate their time and energy to helping move science forward in this long-term quest.

I first became involved in this effort nearly ten years ago when I volunteered for an early
HIV Vaccine Study. Ten years may seem like a long time, but a long road to a vaccine is nothing new. It took scientists 42 years to develop a measles vaccine and 47 years to develop one for polio. Now, these vaccines are saving millions of lives around the globe.

Last year, a trial in Thailand showed the first evidence in humans that a vaccine could
prevent HIV infection. And while the positive results were modest, the data from the
study will help scientists further light the path toward a vaccine. This milestone would
never have been possible without the help of the more than 16,000 volunteers who took
part in the study for over six years.

Volunteers here in the District of Columbia play an equally important role in this effort.

Black, white, Latino, gay, straight, male, female, transgender — volunteers are essential to finding an effective vaccine that works for everyone and they reflect the diverse makeup of our country and millions of people from all walks of life affected by HIV/AIDS.

Continues after the jump.

For scientists to develop a vaccine that will work for everyone, they must be able to see how different races and genders react to various vaccine candidates and to learn from the trial participants’ experiences, which is why each and every volunteer plays a critical role in this fight.

DC native Kymone Freeman is one such volunteer. “I am dedicated to destigmatizing the social prejudice and addressing the fear and ignorance surrounding HIV/AIDS,” says Freeman, who lost his uncle to AIDS. “Our only hope of truly curbing this pandemic is the discovery of a vaccine. That is why I volunteer.”

Volunteer safety is the top priority, and vaccines tested in humans do not contain the actual HIV virus. In addition, several external groups including community advisory boards (CABs), comprised of local community representatives and HIV prevention specialists, monitor studies in each trial site to ensure participant safety in each study. These boards assist in the planning, development and implementation of research, ensure that community concerns are considered, and serve as a voice for the community and study volunteers.

Finding a vaccine is an effort by many to help many more. Scientists, CABS, HIV
prevention educators, and study volunteers all continue to play key roles in finding what
we hope will one day end the spread of HIV/AIDS. We salute them all for their efforts
this HIV Vaccine Awareness Day and are reminded of their enormous contributions to
this historic endeavor.

David Mariner is the Executive Director of the DC Center and co-chair of the Capital
Area Vaccine Effort (CAVE), our local community advisory board (CAB) for HIV vaccine
research. To learn more about CAVE or HIV Vaccine Awareness Day events in our
community, visit

HIV Vaccine Awareness Day Lunch: This free lunch presentation takes place on
HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, May 18th at 12:30 PM at the DC Center for the LGBT
Community, 1810 14th Street NW, Washington, DC.