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An HIV/AIDS Vaccine Breakthrough? On CNN, Community Leaders Offer Perspective

By Kellee Terrell

July 12, 2010

Off the cusp of the exciting news that scientists have discovered two potent antibodies that can stop more than 90 percent of HIV strains, CNN anchor Don Lemon interviewed Phill Wilson, CEO and founder of the Black AIDS Institute, and Sherri Lewis, HIV/AIDS activist and blogger, to discuss what this development means in terms of a possible HIV/AIDS vaccine.

Lewis, holding Dab the AIDS Bear in her lap, said that while this is great news, she was only cautiously optimistic: "I have been hearing this for a long time, so I was skeptical at first. But I did some of the reading that's been online and the fact that this is going across the board for 91 percent of the strains, which has been the real hurdle in finding an effective vaccine. It is very, very promising." She added: "I've always been every conservative about medicines and treatments, but 25 years later, I am glad that I have been cautious."

Wilson agreed with Lewis and told CNN anchor Don Lemon that this was fantastic news. But he admitted that there is much more work to do in terms of creating an actual, working vaccine: "This is the beginning. We are a long way away, but this is very exciting news as we move forward. Clearly, a vaccine is our next hope to ending the AIDS epidemic, and this gives us hope that we'll get there."

During the segment, Lemon brought up an interesting point: Given the stigma around HIV/AIDS, when a working vaccine is developed, will people actually want to get vaccinated? That question makes a lot of sense. There is a lot of stigma and silence around HIV in the U.S. in general. But then add the tumultuous relationship that communities of color (especially African Americans) have had with the medical community, and there could be a potential backlash against a vaccine.

Wilson responded by saying education and community involvement in clinical trials and research is crucial: "Certainly we need to do a lot of education, but one of the take home messages is that research is important, and we need to be involved in that research." He added: "The person who they first found this antibody is a black gay man, so that is further evidence of why we should be engaged. I think that is going to help the stigma."

The data from the study will be presented next week at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria.'s team will be on the ground in Vienna covering this and other major developments from the conference.

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