The New York Times’ HIV vaccine fantasy

Working with HIV can get dispiriting at times. We have some 70 million prevention failures to our credit so far; those will always attract more attention than the unquantifiable millions of infections which we have managed to prevent, by providing a safe blood supply, clean needles for injectors, decent STI treatment and condoms for people most likely to be having sex with someone who might be infected with HIV.

If you’re not doing well with the tools you have, it’s normal to look for new tools. Hence our search for microbicides and above all a vaccine. We’ve had miserable news about both in recent months. At a conference last week, researchers plunged deeper into despond than they usually do. Even Anthony Fauci, the high priest of vaccine optimism, was gloomy. The doom was reported by The New York Times. Organisations that treat lots of AIDS patients cried that we should stop throwing money down the black hole of vaccine research, and spend it on treatment and our old prevention tools instead.

In a curious editorial, the New York Times has today embraced vaccine development once again. The title does not bode well: “Grim Outlook for an AIDS Vaccine”. The content is a litany of gloom. But right at the end, the Times argues for more investment in vaccine research, concluding:

There is little doubt that a vaccine would be the most effective and cheapest way to shrink the AIDS epidemic.

Most people who’ve spent the last two decades failing to produce an effective (let alone cheap) vaccine are doubting it, very publicly. Any ideas what might have inspired the NYT to this pigs-might-fly conclusion?

This post was published on 30/03/08 in Money and AIDS, Science.

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