Many Misunderstand HIV Vaccine

Volunteer Brooks Blanton displays an experimental vaccine against HIV called AIDSVAX at the Phoenix Body Positive clinic July 28, 1999. Blanton joins 5,000 volunteers in major cities across the country, mostly gay men, with the same goal. They'll spend the next three years of their lives helping researchers for Brisbane, Calif.-based VaxGen Inc. determine if AIDSVAX is capable of stopping the virus that infects approximately 16,000 people worldwide each day.
In a new survey, many U.S. adults expressed hope that a vaccine would be developed to fight HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The survey also showed some misinformation about HIV vaccines, write researcher Matthew Murguia, MPubAff, and colleagues.

For instance, 18 percent of the participants stated that an HIV vaccine already exists and is being kept secret. That belief was also voiced by nearly half of the blacks, more than a quarter of Hispanics, and 13 percent of men who have sex with men.

In addition, fewer than one in four people didn't know that HIV vaccines can't cause HIV infection. More Hispanics and men who have sex with men got that right, write the researchers.

Setting The Record Straight

WebMD talked to Murguia, who works at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about the report.

"I think it's very important for people to understand that there is not [an HIV] vaccine," Murguia tells WebMD. "That affects whether or not they're willing to listen to prevention messages and treatment messages as well."

In addition, "it's important for people to understand that you can't get HIV from the vaccines being tested. A lot of people think you can because they think, 'How did we find a polio vaccine? We used polio to make the vaccine.' We don't do that with HIV vaccines. And in fact, there is no live virus in HIV vaccines at all. It's always synthetically manufactured particles that are used. And so, that's a key message for folks to understand that they can't get HIV from the vaccines that are being tested. They are safe," says Murguia.

About The Survey

The telephone survey included 2,000 men and women. Because HIV has hit some communities particularly hard, the researchers also included an additional 500 blacks, 500 Hispanics, and 500 men who have sex with men.