It’s the Investigational HIV vaccine which failed and not the trial, Imbokodo scientist clarifies

By Kudakwashe Pembere

IT was the investigational HIV Vaccine which did not live up to scientists’ expectations and not the Imbokodo trial purported to have failed, a Zimbabwean researcher said

This clarity comes amid a barrage of dispiriting headlines in international press which adjudged the trial a flop. International and regional media proclaimed the Imbokodo trial a failure.

As scientists are famed for surgical precision, they feel some of the headlines were misinformative.

The vaccine efficacy in this trial was estimated at 25%, a result that is not significantly greater than 0% vaccine efficacy (95% confidence interval -10.5% to 49.3%).

Addressing a webinar on Thursday, Dr Portia Hunidzarira said the Imbokodo trial proved women are at a greater risk of acquiring HIV.

“Just as an introduction, we know in Sub Saharan African women account for 60 percent of new HIV infections. The HIV incidence even in Imbokodo just corresponds to the fact that women are at a substantial risk of getting HIV,” she said.

She said the vaccine trial did not fail but instead offered them an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and come up with a safe and effective vaccine.

“Some would want to know what the Imbokodo results mean. Does it mean that the HIV vaccine failed? So my answer to this is no. The HIV vaccine didnt fail.

“The results from the Imbokodo study simply mean the vaccine didnt have enough protection to work in the way we had hoped it would. The results themselves do give us hope as scientists because we are constantly learning from what didn’t work in this trial and how we can perfect it or do it differently,” Dr Hunidzarira explained.

Disappointed but not disheartened, Dr Hunidzarira said since vaccine development takes a long time as witnessed with the polio vaccine, they are closing in.

“I always like to refer to this table. The polio vaccine took 47 years. The influenza vaccine took 93 years. So when we look at HIV vaccine research and we say we’ve just been doing this for 40 years. It’s not any reason for us to be disheartened because we’ve got history telling us this takes time. Remember it is important that we roll out a safe and effective vaccine. Us discontinuing the study is important because it means that we have noted it is not effective enough to roll out to the public. It is also important that we roll out something that is safe. This is to make us realise we are not too far away when it comes too HIV vaccine research,” she said.

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