The most promising AIDS vaccine in the pipeline was a bust -- and might actually have put participants in field tests at greater risk of becoming infected. Other trials of similar vaccines have also been called off, which raises an important question: is funding for AIDS vaccines a waste of money?
It also raises the question of where to direct funding for HIV/AIDS prevention. Should it go to long-shot vaccines or other, more proven prevention methods, like condom distribution and community awareness campaigns? The Washington Post reports that the National Institutes of Health directed $497 million of its annual budget towards AIDS vaccine research this year. That money could have bought a lot of condoms.
But the debate is a bit misguided. It’s unlikely that NIH funding or Big Pharma money aimed at finding a vaccine would ever be redirected toward prevention and education campaigns. Rather, the vaccine’s failure serves notice that a panacea is still years, if not decades away. And while research toward a vaccine continues -- as it should -- world leaders and the broader global public health community should be spurred by recent failures to recommit to existing prevention strategies.