Chat with an AIDSVAX Volunteer
'Participation in this study is very important in order to stop HIV'
Bert DaFonte, editor of AIDS Project Los Angeles' SexVibe and AIDSVAX study volunteer, shared his thoughts and feelings on being in a vaccine clinical trial with APLA treatment advocate Nina Marks.
Nina Marks: Can you describe the process that led you to participate in the AIDSVAX trial?
Bert DaFonte: I first learned of the trial taking place in the West Hollywood area when approached by AIDS ReSEARCH Alliance to place an ad in SexVibe. Then, my friend Thomas Dyer approached me and let me know they were seeking participants and asked if I would be interested. After taking a couple of days to decide on whether or not I wanted to participate in the study, I decided to participate. I think my biggest discomfort with the entire process (besides the needles) was taking an HIV test.
N.M.: How did it feel, physically and emotionally, to receive your first injection?
B.D.: It is very hard for me to attribute specific feelings during this period. I had a lot of things going on in my personal life and I cannot truly say any of my discomforts are associated with the vaccine specifically. I was glad that I did decide to participate and felt that I was involved with a study that could have an immense impact on people around the world. The injection itself was not painful and my only immediate discomfort afterwards was at the site where my blood had been drawn earlier.
N.M.: Even though you haven't been exposed to infectious HIV and assuming you did not receive placebo, what's it like to know that you would now test HIV-positive in most clinics?
B.D.: I don't think that is an issue at this point. If I decide I need an HIV test, then I can take the test at the AIDS ReSEARCH Alliance clinic. I'm curious to take an HIV test at another clinic to see if I have indeed been given the vaccine, but I feel that would defeat the purpose of what the study is trying to accomplish.
N.M.: I know this is very personal but, since receiving the injection, has the thought of easing up on safer sex practices ever crossed your mind?
B.D.: I don't think anymore than what goes through my head normally. I know I have personally cracked a few jokes about celebrating at a local spa by having all the unprotected sex that I could want, but they're just jokes. Until a vaccine is proven to be effective against HIV, I will still continue negotiating my own safety.
N.M.: Based on your experience, what would you say to someone who is considering enrolling in the study?
B.D.: I have already spoken with people who I feel would be excellent participants for the study and have highly recommended it to them. I think people have to realize that this is a long-term commitment and should not attempt it if they know they might not finish it. I think participation in this study is very important in order to stop HIV in the future. I don't feel anything will do that short of an HIV vaccine.
This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.