Thailand AIDS Vaccine Lesson: Public Support Matters

Earlier this year, I went to Thailand to report on a historic AIDS vaccine study known as the Thai Prime-Boost study (its technical name is RV144).

I was asked by the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition to offer a journalistic take on the project, the world’s largest HIV vaccine study to date and the only one to show some level of effectiveness.

You can read my report here and the full AVAC report here.

It was a controversial research project, for a variety of reasons. And it almost fell apart – not because of the science but from a failure to appreciate that we can’t develop vaccines without public support and understanding. It takes a lot of people to test a vaccine.

Some 16,000 young Thais were needed to pull this research project off, and the Thai government, at first, didn’t fully appreciate what it took to recruit and maintain public support for this massive endeavor. They started losing volunteers, putting the study at risk.

Thai vaccine study volunteers

Photo by Tom Paulson

Thai students who participated in the AIDS vaccine study.

I was given free reign to do this story, and it didn’t make everyone happy. Mistakes were made, as they say, which one hopes will be transformed into new insights for conducting future large-scale AIDS vaccine studies.

With the surprising positive results of this trial, the AIDS vaccine research community is looking to conduct further such large-scale tests, in Thailand and elsewhere. Success will depend to a great extent upon how the community is engaged and invested in the science.

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.