Will Covid-19 vaccines increase risk of HIV?

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Dr Deyn

Dr Deyn

Dr Natthakhet (Deyn) Yaemim, M.D., is the director and co-founder PULSE, a pan-Asian sexual health network of medical clinics and services. He earned his medical degree in Thailand and did advanced studies in Japan and Thailand. He is also affiliated as a researcher with Maastricht University, Netherlands.

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As the global race to create a vaccine to conquer the Covid-19 virus and put an end to the global pandemic continues, new concerns have arisen that some of the vaccines being proposed could increase the risk of HIV infections.

A group of four researchers who published an October report in the medical journal The Lancet say that some vaccine formulations are using the same component that led to a failed HIV vaccine trial in 2007, a trial that actually proved to increase the rate of HIV infection among the men who participated. Interestingly, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has gained worldwide fame as the most notable scientific voice of reason in America’s COVID fight, was a co-writer of the 2014 study that outlined the HIV vaccine problem.

What’s the issue?

Vaccines almost always use modified viruses as vessels to transport material into the body, and many of those viruses are a type of adenovirus that’s usually harmless.

However, adenovirus 5 (Ad5), the adenovirus that caused trouble in the HIV vaccine, is now being used in some Covid-19 vaccine designs. China-based CanSino Biologics is farthest along, conducting Phase III clinical testing using and Ad5-based vaccine in Russia and Pakistan and hoping to expand into Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico.

The last thing Asian health officials want is a potential solution that ends up causing more problems. According to the United Nations, 5.8 million Asians are currently living with HIV, and there were 300,000 new infections and 160,000 AIDS-related deaths across Asia and the Pacific in 2019.

Though many countries have had success in controlling the spread of HIV, new infections are rising in Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea, and AIDS-related deaths are increasing in those countries as well as in Indonesia.

Fortunately, there may be options.

Vaccines underway at big pharmaceutical firms such as Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca (working with Oxford University) have steered away from Ad5 and are using different adenoviruses in their vaccines.

Global health experts are urging all the virus manufacturers to avoid using Ad5-based vaccines in regions where HIV rates are currently highest. That includes Lawrence Corey, one of the co-authors of the study and the co-leader of vaccine testing at the US National Institutes of Health, who told Science magazine he’s concerned about vaccine testing in areas with high HIV rates.

Covid-19 must be stopped—as quickly as is humanly possible—but it’s imperative that in fighting the battle, we don’t cause unnecessary casualties.

To commemorate World Aids Day on December 1, this week’s stories will all be about the latest news on HIV and how it affects us. If you like what we’re doing, please consider giving us a Like and Follow on our socials (IG: @asiadotgay, and FB: asiadotgay). You can also support us by donating to help us deliver critical HIV information in multiple languages across Asia.

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