Dr Portia Hunidzarira, the Imbokodo Principal Researcher said the discontinuation of the HVTN 705/HPX2008 or Imbokodo study gave researchers and scientist a new platform to learn and develop evidence for future studies that might lead to an HIV vaccine breakthrough.
By Patricia Mashiri
She said the vaccine proved to be safe and caused no harm to participants even though it was unable to provide sufficient protection to prevent HIV infection which the study was looking. The study which commenced in 2017 and concluded vaccinations in June 2020 wanted to test if the Imbokodo vaccine regimen would prevent Sub Saharian African women from getting HIV.
Speaking during a media café that was organised by the Health Communicators Forum of Zimbabwe (HCF), Dr Hunidzarira said the research was not a failure.
Though the vaccine did not give us enough protection, we are going learn from this study what worked and where we went wrong so that we can improve in future trials. Presently, we are analyzing another data that comes from the study.
“There are other issues regarding what immune responses were elicited by the vaccine which will help us to find a vaccine that will provide similar immune responses that can be associated with learning. It takes a long time to come up with a vaccine and we hope eventually we will be able to come up with something,” Dr Huni said.
Dr Huni howver added that HIV and COVID-19 though they are both caused by viruses, cannot be compared since a person who gets infected with COVID-19 can easily recover without any need for medication which is not the case with HIV.
“That means the body is able to clear itself without any intervention, but for HIV virus we have no knowledge of anyone for instance where it was able to clear by itself that means its difficult also for scientists to figure out how to ensure that the body is able to learn how to clear HIV by itself because we do not have any example to compare with and we know that HIV is capable of rapidly mutating so we got multiple strains of HIV in comparison to COVID-19.
“When HIV infects the body, it destroys the body’s defense system. You got a virus that’s destroying the body’s defense system that makes it quite a formidable enemy in trying to find a vaccine that’s able to address HIV itself.”
The Imbokodo study also revealed that people were still skeptical of HIV vaccines as evidenced in the communities where acceptance of the HIV vaccine concept was faced with resistance and hesitance.
Beauty Nerupfunde, CAB member Chitungwiza Community said, “People are knowledgeable about childhood vaccines but they were not quite sure about HIV vaccines. Most people did not want to participate in HIV vaccine trials because of many misconceptions that they will no longer be able to bear children or have health complications in future. I shared my experiences with them because I once participated in a vaccine trial. Although we failed to win, some others were forth coming,” she said.
The study analysis demonstrated a vaccine efficacy point estimate of 25.2%(95% confidence interval of -10.5% to 49.3%).