03 May 2011

Progress in infant HIV vaccine trial

Infants enrolled in October 2010 in an HIV vaccine trial are doing well, say researchers in Kenya.


Infants enrolled in October 2010 in an HIV vaccine trial are doing well, say researchers in Kenya.

"We have already vaccinated 28 infants with the vaccine and up to now we haven't seen any adverse reaction in any of the infants - it is important to know that the vaccine is safe," said Walter Jaoko, the lead researcher in the study.

The Phase I trial of the HIV vaccine candidate, modified vaccine virus Ankara (MVA.HIVA), is intended to test the safety and efficacy of the vaccine candidate in infants. It contains small particles of HIV genes, but researchers say it cannot cause HIV infection since it does not contain the whole virus.

The trial is sponsored by the UK's Medical Research Council and the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership. The Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative will enrol a total of 72 infants and monitor them for one year; the trial is also being conducted in the Gambia, where 48 infants will participate.

Injected with virus

During the trial, babies born to healthy HIV-negative and HIV-positive mothers are injected with MVA.HIVA at 20 weeks.

"All infants that we have in the study are there with the full consent of the parents and the entire factors of the study were fully disclosed to them [parents]," said Jaoko. "Half of the children in the study received both the trial vaccine together with the routine immunisation while another half only received their regular vaccine. This is meant to help compare the infants vaccinated with the trial vaccine and those who haven't received it on their immune response."

Reducing risk to children

All HIV-positive mothers whose children were enrolled for the trials were provided with antiretroviral therapy, as well as infant feeding counselling during pregnancy and breastfeeding to reduce the risk of HIV transmission to their children.

Should the vaccine prove efficacious, researchers say a trial would be conducted on another vaccine to be combined with MVA. The resultant vaccine would then be administered to children at birth like any other vaccine and could greatly help prevent HIV infection in children in future.

"We are hopeful that this study will help get a vaccine that can be used to prevent HIV in children in future," said Jaoko.

The MVA.HIVA vaccine has been previously tested on adults in the UK and Africa and showed no adverse reactions.

An estimated half a million children, many of them in poor countries, are infected with HIV; without intervention, about half of infants infected with HIV die before their second birthday. - (PlusNews, April 2011)

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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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