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NIAID News Release

Many Americans Think an HIV/AIDS Vaccine Already Exists

May 18th Observance of International HIV Vaccine Awareness Day Unveils the Upside-Down AIDS Ribbon

May 15, 2003

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

Many Americans wrongly believe that a preventive vaccine for HIV/AIDS has already been developed, according to surveys recently conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Nearly half of African Americans surveyed (48 percent) and more than a quarter of Hispanics (28 percent) believe that an HIV vaccine already exists and is being kept a secret. Twenty percent of adults in the general population share that belief.

The preliminary findings are from a national survey of 3,500 people conducted by NIAID, a component of the National Institutes of Health. The research included a 2,000-person national survey of American adults and three smaller surveys of communities most affected by HIV and AIDS (i.e., African American, Hispanics, and men who have sex with men).

As a part of NIAID's efforts to educate the public about ongoing research, the Institute is sponsoring the Sixth Annual HIV Vaccine Awareness Day on May 18. Communities around the country and across the world have planned activities that will provide valuable HIV vaccine information to inform the public and begin to correct misinformation and misperceptions.

"HIV vaccine research is our best hope, along with other prevention and treatment efforts, to slow the spread of HIV," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "NIAID is committed to educating the public to help correct misconceptions and advance public understanding of ongoing and future HIV vaccine research."

The survey found significant support for HIV vaccine research. Eighty-four percent of the public believes that efforts to develop a vaccine to prevent HIV infection are "extremely" or "very" important compared with other medical research needs. Support for HIV vaccine research is even stronger among African-American and Hispanic respondents: 96 six percent of African Americans and 94 percent of Hispanics surveyed believe HIV vaccine research to be "extremely" or "very" important.

Despite that support, the survey indicated some additional, troubling misperceptions about efforts to develop a vaccine to prevent HIV infection. For example,

  • Only 58 percent of those surveyed understand that vaccine development requires testing potential vaccines on thousands of humans before approval.

  • Nearly one-third mistakenly believe that the HIV vaccines being tested can cause HIV infection in clinical trial volunteers; an additional 44 percent were unsure.

These misperceptions and the lack of substantive knowledge about HIV vaccine research underscore the ongoing need to educate the public about efforts underway to develop a vaccine that prevents HIV infection.

Every day, an estimated 16,000 people worldwide become infected with HIV, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. Approximately 50 percent of the 38.6 million adults living with HIV/AIDS worldwide are women, while 3.2 million are children younger than 15 years old.

In the United States, an estimated 900,000 people are living with HIV. New infections occur at a rate of 40,000 a year; more than half of those new infections occur in people of color. Young people under the age of 25 account for half of all new HIV infections in the United States.

Gary J. Nabel, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center in NIAID (, says, "HIV Vaccine Awareness Day provides the public with an opportunity to learn more about HIV vaccine research. Only through research will we be able to meet our ultimate goal and make HIV/AIDS a disease of the past."

Upside-Down Red Ribbon, New Symbol of HIV Vaccine Awareness Day

Nearly 100 organizations throughout the United States will host events to recognize the contributions of thousands of study volunteers, scientists and health professionals working to find a vaccine that prevents HIV infection. This year the day will be commemorated with a twist on a familiar symbol of AIDS awareness. For the first time, organizers are asking people to recognize the promise of HIV vaccine research by wearing a red AIDS ribbon upside-down on HIV Vaccine Awareness Day to form a "V" for "vaccines."

"May 18th provides us with an opportunity to recognize the researchers, community educators and thousands of volunteers around the world who have been involved in the quest for an HIV vaccine," says Margaret (Peggy) I. Johnston, Ph.D., associate director for HIV/AIDS vaccines, NIAID. "HIV continues to spread unabated in many parts of the world. What we need is to stop that spread, and the best hope to do that is through a safe and effective preventive HIV vaccine."

More Vaccine Candidates Than Ever Before in Testing

Discovering a safe, effective vaccine to prevent HIV infection is a research priority for the U.S. government. Funding from NIAID has enabled scientists to put more potential vaccines in the pipelines for testing in the next two years than were tested in the last five years combined.

More than 60 medical research centers around the country have recruited thousands of volunteers to test dozens of potential vaccines. NIAID is currently sponsoring multiple clinical trials of HIV vaccine candidates through the global HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN). These vaccine trials will one day require tens of thousands of additional volunteers. Currently, more than 12,000 men and women worldwide have come forward as volunteers for HIV vaccine research.

More information on HIV vaccine research and HIV Vaccine Awareness Day is available at,, or the HIV Vaccine Trials Network at

HIV Vaccine Awareness Day Events

HIV Vaccine Awareness Day activities will be held throughout the world. This year's events emphasize education and outreach by the research sites, including media events, tours of research facilities, lectures and receptions to honor volunteers. For information about events in specific areas, contact the following:

Baltimore, MD

Johns Hopkins University
Theron Scott: (410) 614-6619

University of Maryland, Baltimore
Sandra Wearins: (410) 706-1290

Bethesda, MD

NIAID Vaccine Research Center
Nancy Barrett: (301) 435-3676

Birmingham, AL

University of Alabama at Birmingham
Leslie Cooper: (205) 975-2839

Boston, MA

Brigham and Women's Hospital
Fenway Community Health
Darren LeBlanc: (617) 927-6026

Durban, South Africa

Medical Research Center
Nobuhle Mkhize: 27-31-203-4700

Gaborone, Botswana

Princess Marina Hospital
Rupert Hambria: (267) 393-1137

Nashville, TN

Vanderbilt University
Susan Montgomery: (615) 322-0873

New York, NY

Project Achieve/New York Blood Center and Columbia University
Denise Goodman: (212) 388-0008

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Dr. Mireille Peck: 509-222-00-31

Providence, RI

Miriam Hospital
Stephanie Howie: (401) 793-4714

Rio de Janiero, Brazil

Hospital Escola Sao Francisco de Assis
Monica Barbosa: 55-21-2273-9073

Rochester, NY

University of Rochester
Patrick Fisher: (585) 275-0459

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco Department of Public Health
Jennifer Sarche: (415) 554-4297

Seattle, WA

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center/University of Washington
Dennis Torres: (206) 521-5812

Soweto, South Africa

Perinatal HIV Research Unit
Dr. Glenda Gray: 217-11-989-9703

St. Louis, MO

Saint Louis University
Kim Dao: (314) 268-5448

Radio Broadcasters: Soundbites are available by calling the NIH Radio News Service at 1-800-MED DIAL (1-800-633-3425).

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

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