JIS News

Jamaica has given its commitment to source HIV negative volunteers locally to be part of the international HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN), which aims to conduct clinical trials in the development and testing of preventive HIV vaccines.
Beginning next year some 32 Jamaican volunteers are to be sourced to participate in the trial, joining another 1,500 persons from a number of countries worldwide.
Delivering the keynote speech at the launch of the HVTN at the Ministry’s Epidemiology Research and Training Unit on Slipe Pen Road today (Nov. 17), Health Minister, John Junor endorsed the government’s support of the Network.
He pointed out that in the thrust to minimise the rate of infection of HIV among the Jamaican population, “we should not plan, I think, for a long term prevention and control of HIV/AIDS in Jamaica without participating in the search for a vaccine to prevent the spread of HIV and, ultimately to contribute to controlling AIDS”.
Jamaica is but one of the Network’s HIV Vaccine Trial Units, which are located at leading research institutions in 27 sites in North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and within the Caribbean in countries that include Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.
Elaborating on the expected advantages Jamaica stood to receive by its participation in the vaccine trial, Minister Junor said, “We can’t simply sit back and say we will wait until somebody else develops a vaccine, it is a struggle that must engage all peoples in the world in trying to find a solution to this particular issue.”
Notwithstanding the pending vaccine trial, the Health Minister pointed out that the Ministry was already being responsive to the HIV/AIDS epidemic by “ensuring that our people are protected from HIV transmission through sex, through blood or blood products, through mother to child transmission, and breast milk”.
He added that significant emphasis had also been placed on the prevention of sexual transmission in light of the fact that 90 per cent of recorded AIDS infections were due to sexual contact.
Continuing, he said the government, through its stakeholders, was responsible for ensuring that “the national blood is safe; we ensure universal precautions and post exposure prophylaxis to prevent accidental exposure, particularly of our health workers; ensure the prevention of mother to child transmission through universal testing of pregnant women; free access to antiretroviral treatment and infant feeding substitutes in the case of pregnant women”.
While Mr. Junor called on volunteers to come forward to participate in the vaccine trial, he noted that in the interim, “the truth is the only vaccine we have right now is the minds of our people.the ability to inform one’s self, to recognise risks, to make sensible choices that eliminate risk”.
Chief of Epidemiology and AIDS in the Health Ministry, Dr. Peter Figueroa, in his address, informed that Jamaica had been “working quietly for the past three years preparing ourselves to conduct the first HIV vaccine trial in 2006”.
There will be three phases of preventive HIV vaccine clinical trials.
According to Dr. Figueroa, the first phase will involve a small number of healthy volunteers (HIV negative) in order to test the safety and various doses of the vaccine. This phase will last up to two years.
The second phase, the epidemiologist said, would involve hundreds of HIV-negative volunteers to test safety and immune responses of the vaccine, and is slated to last up to four years.
Meanwhile, the third phase is expected to involve thousands of HIV-negative volunteers to test the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and will last up to four years.
Dr. Figueroa emphasised that it was not possible for volunteers to become infected with HIV or develop AIDS, as the vaccines were experimental and were not made from live HIV, killed HIV, weakened HIV, or infected cells.
He explained that the vaccine being used is called the adenovirus five, and “acts as a vector, which is like a suitcase, to carry the HIV gene insert, which stimulates an immune response but is unable to replicate”.
“Neither the vector nor the HIV gene insert can cause HIV or AIDS,” Dr. Figueroa stressed.
Outlining the criteria required for volunteers, he said participation in the trial was completely voluntary and was open to persons aged 18 to 60 years. Volunteers are to be in good health, and careful screening will be carried out. This includes a full medical examination, laboratory tests, detailed explanation of the study, and written informed consent.
Over the course of six months, participants will be given either three shots of the investigational vaccine or three shots of a placebo (an injection without any active vaccine) made of a saline solution (salt water). Participants will be followed up for four years and tested for HIV every six months while receiving state-of-the-art counselling to reduce risk behaviour.

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