Over the past week, scientists and advocates around the world refocused their attention on the search for an HIV vaccine. Fittingly the observance stems from a long ago speech by President Bill Clinton. On May 18, 1997, Mr. Clinton delivered an inspiring commencement address at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. In the speech, the president challenged the scientific community and the graduating class from one of America’s foremost historically black universities to invest their talents in the discovery of an HIV vaccine. Mr. Clinton also called for a worldwide commitment to develop an “AIDS vaccine within the next decade.” Since that commencement, May 18 has been marked by scientists, advocates and governments as HIV Vaccine Awareness Day.
In the years following Mr. Clinton’s bold challenge, there have been gains and setbacks in our quest to find an HIV vaccine.
In 2009, the world applauded when the U.S. Army’s research program and the Thai Ministry of Health announced the first HIV vaccine trial to show efficacy. The trial results showed that the candidate vaccines in the RV144 study worked in 31 percent of the people who were vaccinated. Although this level of efficacy is not sufficient to bring a product to market, it is a promising sign that a vaccine is indeed possible.