20 April 2011

The HIV Vaccine Trial and Me

A few friends have asked about (and had concerns about) my Facebook posts about the HIV vaccine trial that I'm participating in, so I thought I'd create a post about it to let everyone know what's up.  The primary reason that I post about it quite candidly is because there is still far too much stigma around HIV, and also because I hope that some of my friends will consider enrolling.

Philadelphia is one of a number of cities currently participating in a vaccine trial that is studying the effects of an experimental vaccine on gay and bisexual men, and transgender women.  I had two screening visits and today I received my first of four injections.  The first three are plasmid DNA that have a fragment of genetic code of the HIV virus; the fourth is RNA introduced by a deactivated adenovirus, AKA the common cold.  The study is open only to HIV negative participants, and the vaccinations cannot cause HIV/AIDS.

I chose to participate for two reasons: 1) to benefit medical science in advancing the search for effective HIV prevention and 2) for the possibility of reducing my risk of contracting HIV if exposed to it.  Granted, the plan is still to use safer sex practices to reduce that likelihood, but if the condom breaks and I can have an immune system that has possibly already been trained to recognize and react to HIV, why not? Of course, it's entirely possible that I'm getting either a placebo or a totally ineffective vaccine.

Additionally, the first time this study was done it was stopped because uncircumcised men and men who had been exposed to the adenovirus used in the fourth shot and who received the vaccine actually ended up at a higher risk of contracting HIV.  I do not fall into either of these categories, but whether there are other risk factors not yet known remains to be seen.  Other than a little tenderness at the injection site, I feel fine after my first shot today, and also having had 23 vials of blood taken today.  That's about a half pint, so never having been seriously ill, it's by far the most I've ever had drawn.  Next injection is May 23rd and the staff is so awesome that I'm oddly looking forward to going back for it.


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