A Call for Justice and Equity

The AVAC team is united in sorrow and anger at the inequities that are being laid bare in America today. We advocate every day for an equitable HIV response, but we know that we can’t stop there. We stand with those who are calling for a more just and equitable world.

Advocates Take the Bullhorn: New resources on AVAC.org

In case you missed it, AVAC has a number of new resources to support our collective advocacy for HIV prevention research and an equitable, evidence-based response to COVID-19.

HIV Advocates Demand an Ethical Response to COVID-19

Unprecedented focus on vaccine development for COVID-19 put a new perspective on HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (HVAD) on May 18.

There’s never been more at stake or more opportunity to build global capacity to ethically develop and deliver vaccines, which are essential to eventually end HIV and face future epidemics.

To Accelerate Search for COVID-19 Vaccine, Look to HIV and Act Globally

This post first appeared on Devex.

In just six months, the virus that causes COVID-19 has spread around the world, infected over 5 million people, and exacted devastating public health and economic tolls that are only just beginning. Unprecedented efforts to accelerate the development of a vaccine for the virus underscore the urgency of this public health crisis.

We have the benefit of history to provide a clear vision of what must happen with COVID-19. We stand on the shoulders of giants in the fight against HIV who never took “no” for an answer: advocates who demanded a vaccine because they knew their lives depended on it. At the same time, they acted as if a vaccine would never arrive, thereby accelerating the development and delivery of safe and effective treatment and prevention options that have had a dramatic impact on the HIV epidemic.

Since the coronavirus crisis began, we’ve seen Gregg Gonsalves and other advocates who honed their craft advocating for HIV solutions reemerge and lead the charge. And earlier this month, the New York-based organization PrEP4All, which was founded to increase access to HIV medication, issued a report calling for research and development for coronavirus prevention options.

As we know so well from over 40 years of experience in the HIV response, developing and delivering prevention and treatment options at scale is essential to containing an epidemic. But no durable and sustainable end to any epidemic is possible without a vaccine.

Today — just months into this pandemic — there are already over 100 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in the product development pipeline. While the scientific reality is that the majority of these candidates will fail in the early stages, the sheer volume of products is evidence of the global commitment to combating this virus.

This is also another example of where we are drawing on the decades of research and hard-won progress in the field of HIV/AIDS. A recently launched report explored HIV vaccine platforms that are helping accelerate the drive for coronavirus vaccine development and are key priorities for an effective response to this pandemic. Many of the platforms, research partnerships and clinical trial capacities used in COVID-19 vaccine research were developed as part of the effort to find a preventive HIV vaccine.

To winnow down the coronavirus vaccine pipeline to probable winners, global collaboration, harmonized efficacy trials and data-sharing are key. We are already seeing tremendous political leadership, such as the Coronavirus Global Response, the recent European fundraising effort that received more than $8 billion in pledges. This also includes the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS’ call for a “people’s vaccine,” with more than 140 world leaders and experts demanding that vaccines, treatments and tests be “patent-free, mass produced, distributed fairly and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.”

The US has a history of leadership in vaccine development and a particularly important role to play in the global response. The Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center, or VRC — originally established at the National Institutes of Health in 1997 by then-President Bill Clinton to accelerate the development of an HIV vaccine — is taking a leading role in developing promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates and getting them into clinical trials. In May, NIH leaders, including VRC and the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, published a strategic approach to coronavirus vaccine R&D.

Then came the announcement of Operation Warp Speed by the administration of President Donald Trump, with the wildly ambitious goal to deliver the 300 million doses of a vaccine by January 2021. While the specific details for the plan have yet to be released, it is being positioned as a unilateral effort, ignoring possible vaccine candidates from China and reserving the end product for Americans. This is a mistake; global health, not nationalism, must drive vaccine development and the overall COVID-19 response.

Whether there is a vaccine in time for the new year, or in 18 months, or ever, collaboration across countries, disciplines and disease areas will be crucial to the success of this effort. It is also critical that coronavirus R&D reflects the realities of people’s lives and that products and strategies developed to combat COVID-19 are informed by and will be accepted and used by the communities at greatest risk — the elderly, health care workers and those with underlying conditions.

To ensure that product development success becomes public health victory, massive public, private and philanthropic investment globally is needed to accelerate the science; communities must be engaged to both accelerate research and ensure eventual uptake; and equitable access must be the highest priority.

While some groups appear harder-hit by COVID-19, everyone on the planet will potentially need this vaccine. Policymakers, private industry, donors, regulators, the World Health Organization, Gavi and others must work to ensure rapid access to all who need new interventions. In April 1955, when journalist Edward R. Murrow asked researcher Jonas Salk who owned the patent for the polio vaccine, Salk said: “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

HIV Advocates Respond to the COVID-19 Crisis

This post first appeared on USAID.gov. For more information on COVID-19, please consult our COVID-19 and HIV Resources page, which includes a comprehensive set of information and advocacy Resources for Advocates. Daisy Ouya is AVAC’s Communications Advisor.

The COVID-19 pandemic demands that everyone apply their skills, resources and networks to empower communities and ease collective suffering.

The USAID-supported Coalition to Accelerate and Support Prevention Research (CASPR) was created in 2016 to expand robust advocacy efforts around HIV prevention research. We are a network of research-literate HIV prevention advocates working globally with an emphasis on sub-Saharan Africa. The Coalition places a special focus on literacy in infectious diseases, clinical research and trial design, through its long-standing partnerships with local and regional civil society, researchers, national governments, normative agencies and the media.

Although HIV and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) have many important differences, such as mode of transmission, infectivity, case-fatality and global distribution, this emerging pandemic emergency has given rise to many déjà vu moments where the well-honed HIV advocacy skills of CASPR members can be applied. And we are rising to the challenge.

Using virtual gatherings, public statements, media trainings, blogs, podcasts and social media, the Coalition is actively debunking misconceptions, conspiracy theories, anti-vaccine and anti-research narratives. We are empowering our communities to recognize the myths and outright disinformation about COVID-19 and about research, and actively promoting the only evidence-based prevention options currently known: physical distancing, handwashing, and the proper use of face masks.

We are educating communities on efforts toward vaccines and therapeutics, the research and development process, the ethical principles that govern clinical research globally, and the strengths and limitations of mathematical modelling as it applies to the COVID-19 and HIV epidemiology. In parallel, we are highlighting the importance of global cooperation in COVID-19 research through initiatives such as the COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition. A recent global webinar and new podcast examine the huge contributions of HIV vaccine research and partnerships to the current search for COVID-19 vaccines and therapies, but also how current COVID-19 research is likely to contribute to HIV vaccine research.

Ethical research for solutions to COVID-19 requires that communities be fully engaged. The UNAIDS/AVAC Good Participatory Practice Guidelines for biomedical HIV prevention trials, the World Health Organization’s Good Participatory Practice for Trials of Emerging Pathogens (GPP-EP), and the UNAIDS/WHO Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects are key references in human rights-based research conduct. Ethical considerations also demand a swift and equitable delivery of testing, treatment and prevention options, prioritizing those most at risk.

While recognizing the global havoc wreaked by the novel coronavirus pandemic, we are tracking and condemning the proliferation of dehumanizing and stigmatizing language. We are advocating strongly against branding people ‘COVID suspects’, ‘super-spreaders’ or worse. Our recent webinars with journalists in Africa and India discussed journalists’ safety in COVID-19 reporting, as well as the role and power of language in the response.

Renowned African researchers and advocates have featured on webinars we have hosted to unpack the effect of COVID-19 on HIV prevention clinical trials and health services in Africa. Several CASPR members have been asked to contribute to radio and television panels in our respective countries to discuss the pandemic and its intersection with HIV.

We are pushing for an age- and gender-responsive, human rights-based approach to COVID-19—like the decades of HIV activism that has shaped the response to HIV & AIDS. Our goal is to ensure that equity and our shared humanity is at the center of the response at all levels and confers special protection for those likely to suffer the greatest socio-economic shocks and deleterious health impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is crucial that we renew our advocacy to strengthen health systems and to expand African domestic funding for health, as countries urgently mobilize their healthcare resources to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

As for HIV, we are tracking COVID-19 research and pipeline of products and documenting the profound effects the COVID-19 crisis is having on promising HIV efficacy trials in communities. We stand with fellow advocates and researchers who have identified the need for an efficient resumption of HIV prevention research as soon as it is safe to do so.

This HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, we celebrate and thank the clinical trial participants, health workers, researchers and funders coming together to develop durable public health solutions for humanity.

New Resources on AVAC.org

In this time of COVID-19, new information and new questions arise daily with implications for global health advocacy and for the HIV response at large. In the midst of this, HIV research has taken some major steps forward as well. AVAC has produced a number resources to keep you informed and guide your advocacy on all these issues.

In the Headlines: Research on long-acting PrEP for HIV prevention

AVAC’s Statement on HPTN 083—HPTN 083 stopped the placebo arm of this trial two years early, after a rescheduled review of the data showed the product was at least as good as oral PrEP. AVAC’s statement explains the trial, the findings and talks about what’s next. For a deeper dive into the trial design check out our infographic or the Px Pulse episode on the issue. You can also join an HPTN webinar on the results tomorrow, May 22nd, at 10:30 ET.

COVID-19: Research standing on the shoulders of HIV

Expanding Our Work: Integrating HIV prevention with sexual and reproductive health

AVAC has long promoted a research agenda centered on women, but both the ECHO trial results and the rollout of PrEP have highlighted the urgent need to bring proven interventions for both HIV and sexual and reproductive health to the women who need them. In our blog Programs, Products, Services and Users: HIV & SRH integration is the future of prevention we outline our expanding advocacy to advance HIV/SRH integration, introduce a suite of new resources and our new page on avac.org devoted to HIV/SRH integration.

Injectable PrEP Effective in MSM and Transgender Women

We are writing with breaking PrEP news—data now show that bi-monthly injections of long-acting cabotegravir (CAB-LA) appears to be safe and effective in preventing HIV in cisgender men and transgender women who have sex with men.

The data come from a large-scale efficacy trial, HPTN 083, which is ongoing in 4,500 participants at sites in the Americas, Asia and South Africa. These data were announced after a regularly scheduled review by its data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) found that CAB-LA provided significant protection against HIV. As reported, the DSMB recommended that all HPTN 083 trial participants be told which active drug (CAB-LA or oral TDF/FTC) they were receiving and that placebos be dropped from the study. The study will continue to completion with all participants receiving one of the two active products.

Importantly, these data only apply to the population in HPTN 083—and there is an ongoing “sister” study, HPTN 084, which is evaluating CAB-LA for prevention in cisgender women. This trial began after HPTN 083 and is still enrolling participants. The DSMB recommended that HPTN 084 continue per protocol with both the active and placebo products.

The data announced today by the HPTN and partners show the promise of CAB-LA as a prevention option for some people. This is an exciting development and welcome news for HIV prevention but questions remain, including whether it’s safe and effective in cisgender women, how a bi-monthly injection might be delivered if licensed, how these findings will affect ongoing HIV prevention trials and more.

The HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) held a community webinar on May 22 to discuss the preliminary results of HPTN 083 and the importance of its sister study, HPTN 084, as HIV prevention for cisgender women. Click here to watch the recording.

On this HVAD, Accelerating Vaccine Development for HIV and COVID-19

This HIV Vaccine Awareness Day a global audience is fixated on the need for vaccines. The COVID-19 pandemic has people struggling to understand the science, the development process and the necessity of a vaccine. Taking in these lessons is no less vital for HIV. AVAC’s new report, Five “P”s to Watch: Platforms, process, partnerships, payers and participatory practices that drive vaccine development, connects these key issues and lays out how HIV vaccine research is making the search for a COVID-19 vaccine faster, smarter and more inclusive.

The connections between HIV and COVID-19 research offer unprecedented opportunities to tell the story of vaccine research. Read Five “P”s to Watch to help tell that story: a durable, sustainable end to HIV depends on a vaccine, and investment in HIV has created the know-how leveraged today against COVID-19—on multiple levels.

AVAC has other essential resources for HVAD 2020!

Check out our dedicated page on HVAD 2020, featuring a toolkit and details on related webinars to support advocacy and action, including:

  • Key Messages: Frames priorities and unique opportunities for vaccine advocacy for HIV, COVID-19 and future epidemics.
    • Full: This complete set of messages provides more detail and background on priority messages.
    • Short: The short form of key messages distills priorities into a curated set of quick and easy-to-use statements.
  • Social Media Package: Draft messages and images we hope you’ll use to extend the reach of our collective messaging this HVAD.
  • HIV Vaccines, An Introductory Factsheet: Basic information on concepts and trials in vaccine research.
  • Webinar with Science Magazine’s Jon Cohen. Download the recording to hear Jon talk about the fast-growing pipeline of vaccine candidates for COVID-19, how COVID-19 research is evolving and building on HIV vaccine research and more!
  • AVAC’s latest podcast episode of Px Pulse features leading voices from HIV vaccine and prevention research talking about the intersection of HIV and COVID-19.
  • Watch for an upcoming June webinar with NIH’s Vaccine Research Center for updates on the COVID-19 vaccine pipeline and more!

Let HVAD 2020 be a day you find inspiration and tools to lend your voice to the story of vaccine research, development and delivery – for HIV, COVID-19 and global health generally.

COVID & HIV Research on AVAC’s Newest Episode of Px Pulse!

A new episode of AVAC’s Px Pulse podcast, “The Intersections of HIV and COVID-19 in Real-Time,” is ready for download! We take a comprehensive look at the intersection of HIV and COVID-19.

In this episode, Mark Feinberg, CEO of IAVI, lays out the innovations developed to advance an HIV vaccine that are now being leveraged to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine development at unprecedented speeds.

Helen Rees, Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI), pulls back the curtain on preparations started years ago by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI) to develop and deliver vaccines for “disease X”, which now turns out to be COVID-19.

Sinead Delany-Moretlwe, Director of Research at Wits RHI, Vincent Basajja of the Uganda Virus Research Institute, Jau Nanyondo from Uganda’s Makerere University Walter Reed Project and Philister Adhiambo from the Kenya Medical Research Institute explain challenges faced by HIV prevention trials and innovative efforts to adapt site by site, in the wake of COVID-19.

For more on research in this new era, check out resources, webinar recordings and more on AVAC’s special COVID-19 and HIV page.

For the full podcast episode, highlights and more resources, visit avac.org/px-pulse. And subscribe on Apple PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts!

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HVAD 2020: Unprecedented Action, Continued Urgency

This HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (HVAD), May 18, 2020, is like no other before. HIV and COVID-19 each present a vivid picture of the need for the vaccine enterprise. A durable, sustainable end to any epidemic depends on a vaccine. HVAD is a day to call attention to the still urgent need for an HIV vaccine, take stock of progress, recognize the incalculable contributions of trial participants and researchers—and, this year, to explain how work in HIV has created the foundation for the unprecedented speed of COVID-19 vaccine development. Looking to the future, this HVAD also presents an opportunity to advocate for the global capacity and collaboration needed for the next epidemic.

AVAC is proud to share our dedicated page on HVAD 2020, featuring a toolkit and details on related webinars to support advocacy and action, including:

Key Messages

Frames priorities and unique opportunities for vaccine advocacy for HIV, COVID and future epidemics.

  • Full: This complete set of messages provides more detail and background on priority messages
  • Short: The short form of key messages distills priorities into a curated set of quick and easy-to-use statements

Other Materials

Coming Soon

As part of the HVAD programming at AVAC we have more rolling out in the days to come!

  • May 13, we are hosting a webinar with Science Magazine’s Jon Cohen. Jon will talk about the fast-growing pipeline of vaccine candidates for COVID-19, how COVID research is evolving and building on HIV vaccine research and more! [Update: Recording now available.]
  • On Thursday, May 14, we’re launching our next episode of the AVAC podcast Px Pulse—looking at the intersection of HIV and COVID-19 with a special focus on vaccine development.
  • On Monday, May 18, watch for a suite of infographics and our new report, 5Ps to Watch: A Look at the Process, Platforms, Partnerships, Pounds (and Rands and Euros and Dollars), and Participatory Practices—each of these “Ps” must be done right in response to HIV, COVID-19 and the epidemics of the future.

We hope these tools will help your advocacy this HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. As advocates and researchers, donors and activists, we all know an HIV vaccine is imperative to end the epidemic, now more than ever.

Discussion with Jon Cohen on HIV and COVID-19 Vaccine Research

[UPDATE: Webinar recording now available; click here.]

Six months? A year? Longer? Never? How long until there’s a vaccine against COVID-19? How is COVID vaccine research moving so quickly? How do HIV vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine research relate and inform each other? How do we ensure COVID research happens quickly and ethically?

As we approach HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (HVAD) on May 18, these questions are driving how we think about the ever-evolving global advocacy agenda.

Please join us for a webinar on Wednesday, May 13 at 10am ET to discuss all of this with Jon Cohen, one of the leading journalists covering both HIV and COVID.

Jon is a Science staff writer, award-winning journalist and author of Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine. Jon will discuss the rapidly growing pipeline of COVID vaccine candidates and share insights on how the HIV vaccine field has laid the groundwork for this — along with how COVID research can contribute to the ongoing search for an HIV vaccine.

We’ll also discuss some of the thornier issues emerging in COVID research: just yesterday, the WHO issued a report stating that well-designed “human challenge” studies could accelerate COVID-19 vaccine development. The report articulates important criteria for assessing a challenge study, but they left out the most important one: Until there is an approved treatment, a challenge trial with a potentially fatal and as-yet untreatable pathogen is unacceptable. See AVAC and TAG’s statement on the report here.

And stay tuned for details an upcoming webinar in June featuring representatives from the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center who will discuss some of their leading COVID vaccine candidates, including mRNA candidates, an approach also used in HIV vaccine research.

For the latest on COVID-19 and HIV, visit our special page—www.avac.org/covid—which includes pipeline updates, how COVID-19 is affecting HIV vaccine and prevention research, previous call recordings and more.