February 26, 2003


AIDS vaccine mostly a failure: It helps some groups but doesn't work across the board (Tom Abate, February 24, 2003, San Francisco Chronicle)
A disappointed and puzzled Brisbane biotech firm announced Sunday that its experimental AIDS vaccine failed to protect white and Latino volunteers against HIV infections, while inexplicably shielding two-thirds of the black, Asian and other non-Latino minority participants.

Officials of VaxGen planned to hold a briefing this morning to elaborate on the unexpected results of the company's three-year study of an experimental vaccine tested primarily on gay men in the United States and Europe.

VaxGen vice president for research Phillip Berman, who began work on the vaccine in 1984, put the best spin on the divided findings.

"This is the first time we have specific numbers to suggest that a vaccine has prevented HIV infection in humans," Berman said, adding "we're not sure yet why certain groups have a better immune response."

As the world's largest and most advanced AIDS vaccine study, VaxGen's clinical trial has been closely watched by researchers worldwide looking for ways to blunt an epidemic that has claimed about 25 million lives since AIDS was first recognized in the early '80s.

Now scientists must figure out why, among the 4,511 white and Latino volunteers, the infection rates were virtually the same among those who received the vaccine and those who took the placebo.

However, among the 314 blacks in the study, those who received the vaccine were 78 percent less likely to contract HIV than those in the placebo group. When another 184 Asian and other non-Latino minority volunteers were added to the African American category, the effectiveness of the vaccine declined slightly to 67 percent -- a figure that still impressed UCSF AIDS researcher Tom Coates.

As the recent discussion here about racial intelligence differences suggested, even normally sensible people have an enormous emotional investment in the fanciful notion that race is merely a socialk construct, rather than a physical reality. But commentators of both the Left and the Right have noted how tortured and politically-correct the write ups on this study have been, merely one more example of how science/medicine has been corrupted by politics. Posted by Orrin Judd at February 26, 2003 10:34 AM

Actually, I've been pretty impressed with how frank the discussion of this finding has been -- especially when you consider that it is more likely than not just a statistical artifact.

Posted by: Charlie Murtaugh at February 26, 2003 11:18 AM


If a vaccine were shown to help white men, let's assume the media wouldn't refer to it as mostly a failure.

Posted by: oj at February 26, 2003 11:28 AM

I'm very much ok with this. It will hopefully mean that the most help will go to places where AIDS is so prevelant that it gets spread even when most of the population is acting morally--such as Africa--as opposed to the US, where AIDS is almost completely preventable.

Posted by: Timothy at February 26, 2003 11:46 AM

Ditto--Which would make it a major breakthrough, rather than a "failure".

Posted by: oj at February 26, 2003 12:31 PM

You're right, Orrin. The racial thing is clearly grasping at straws.

That's the researchers.

The journalism was, as always with this subject, atrocious.

Posted by: Harry at February 26, 2003 11:51 PM