Letters to Editor Respond to Opinion Piece Addressing AIDS Vaccine Research
The Baltimore Sun on Saturday published two letters to the editor written in response to a March 23 Sun opinion piece by Homayoon Khanlou and Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Khanlou and Weinstein wrote that the U.S. should invest in proven HIV/AIDS treatment, testing and prevention strategies and not in "expensive vaccine research that over 20 years has yielded little of promise other than discovering how not to make an AIDS vaccine."
According to the writers, the "fact remains" that after 20 years of research, a "vaccine against a retrovirus, the family of viruses HIV belongs to, has never been successfully developed." They added that it is "highly unlikely that there will be an AIDS vaccine -- certainly not by any current definition of the word." Despite "this record of failure," the U.S. has more than doubled its budget for HIV/AIDS vaccine research from $327 million in 2000 to $854 million in 2006, according to the authors. "Meanwhile, funding for HIV/AIDS care in the U.S. has flatlined," and "millions are dying" worldwide because they lack access to effective prevention, treatment and testing strategies, the authors wrote. It is "time to stop the waste" and end government funding for HIV/AIDS vaccine research, they wrote, adding that "much could be achieved" if funds "being poured" into vaccine research were applied to other successful strategies (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/25).
Summaries of the letters appear below.
- Lisa Beyer: The "anti-science mentality displayed" by Khanlou and Weinstein shows "stupefying logic," Beyer, vice president of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, writes. The antiretrovirals AHF "distributes were initially thought impossible to develop," Beyer writes, adding that the drugs are a "direct product of the billions of dollars in research and development funds, and the years of effort invested in developing those drugs." Providing universal access to treatment, testing and prevention to those in need is a "worthwhile mission but an unrealistic one," Beyer writes, adding that "achieving it could cost an estimated $45 billion" annually by 2015, which would "eat up" 25% of all foreign aid. "There are sound scientific reasons to believe an AIDS vaccine is possible," Beyer notes, concluding, "Continuing research on a vaccine not only is morally imperative, but it also will be cost-efficient" (Beyer, Baltimore Sun, 4/5).
- Mitchell Warren: Khanlou and Weinstein's opinion piece was "wildly off-base and showed a blatant disregard for both science and public health," Warren, executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, writes. The recent failure of Merck's AIDS vaccine trials have "rightly spurred intense scientific inquiry," and there is "no doubt that this is a sobering time in the vaccine field," Warren writes, adding, "But it is important to remember that the results of the Merck trials only tell us that one vaccine has failed." It is a "grave error in logic to equate the failure of a single vaccine candidate with failure for the AIDS vaccine field," Warren notes. He adds, "No one trial or one vaccine candidate will provide the solution to this crisis." According to Warren, the "reality is that for every successful scientific discovery, there are hundreds of endeavors that fail." He adds that to progress, "we must expect more research setbacks and prepare to learn from them." He concludes, "Millions of lives ... depend on our doing so" (Warren, Baltimore Sun, 4/5).