Introducing the VARG: Focusing local lens on global advocacy for HIV vaccines

May 9, 2016

It has been said that advocates haven’t played a strong enough role in the HIV vaccine field. While this could be debated, it is true that the role of a vaccine advocate is complicated. How can advocates push to support slow-paced, expensive science, that over its history can be seen as having more low points than highs?

These questions and this conundrum simply highlight the need for focused, strategic advocacy to push forward the goal of vaccine development.

Two weeks ago, a group of HIV vaccine advocates known as the Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group (VARG) came together in Johannesburg to meet this need. They discussed the field, dialogued with researchers, and aired concerns and questions about the field’s current status and key developments. The VARG is a global team of AIDS prevention research advocates—made up of 11 individuals from countries key to vaccine research and well connected in those countries to broader HIV advocacy. Since its formation in 2012, the VARG has been convened virtually, and the chance to meet face-to-face for the first time could have been one of the reasons the room buzzed with excitement as the meeting began.

Another reason for the buzz could have been the current state of the field. With vaccine (P5 and Janssen) and antibody research (VRC01-AMP study) fields at exciting junctures, VARG members had a lot to discuss. Some of their questions included:

  • What will the results of the AMP study mean for the future of passive immunization? And for vaccine development? Will people really sit for an infusion for 30 to 60 minutes?
  • Why is there so much attention around the go/no-go decision making criteria in HVTN 100? What happens if the data indicate a no-go for HVTN 702?
  • Would the Clade C vaccine to be tested in HVTN 702 be relevant to other regions? What would the implications be for other countries if the vaccine is found efficacious in South Africa, the only country where 702 would be conducted?
  • How are vaccine research groups addressing the inclusion of PrEP in efficacy trials? How will stakeholders be involved as trials are planned and PrEP rollout evolves globally?

Vaccine efficacy trial results are a few years away, but we’re now at a time where advocacy roles are becoming clearer and clearer. VARG members left the meeting together with a new sense of priorities and actions. Watch this space!

To read more about the trials and science mentioned above, please visit