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What is a Preventive HIV Vaccine?

Last Reviewed: August 16, 2017

Key Points

  • A preventive HIV vaccine is given to people who do not have HIV, with the goal of preventing HIV infection in the future.
  • There are currently no preventive HIV vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but research is under way. You must be enrolled in a clinical trial to receive a preventive HIV vaccine.

What is a preventive HIV vaccine?

A preventive HIV vaccine is given to people who do not have HIV, with the goal of preventing HIV infection in the future. The vaccine would teach the person’s immune system to recognize and effectively fight HIV in case the person is ever exposed to HIV.

Are there any FDA-approved preventive HIV vaccines?

There are currently no preventive HIV vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but research is under way. You must be enrolled in a clinical trial to receive a preventive HIV vaccine.

How is a preventive HIV vaccine different from a therapeutic HIV vaccine?

While a preventive HIV vaccine is given to people who do not have HIV, a therapeutic HIV vaccine is given to people who already have HIV. The goal of a therapeutic HIV vaccine is to strengthen a person’s immune response to the HIV that is already in the person’s body. Researchers are exploring therapeutic HIV vaccines:

  • To slow down the progression of HIV infection
  • To eliminate the need for antiretroviral therapy (ART) while still keeping undetectable levels of HIV
  • As part of a larger strategy to eliminate all HIV from the body

To learn more, read the AIDSinfo What is a Therapeutic HIV Vaccine? fact sheet.

Can I get HIV from a preventive HIV vaccine?

No, you cannot get HIV from a preventive HIV vaccine. The preventive HIV vaccines being studied in clinical trials do not contain HIV. Of the approximately 30,000 people who have participated in HIV vaccine studies around the world in the last 25 years, no one has gotten HIV from any of the vaccines tested.

Why is a preventive HIV vaccine important?

Treatment options for HIV infection have improved a lot over the last 30 years. But HIV medicines can have side effects, can be expensive, and can be hard to access in some countries. Also, some people may develop drug resistance to certain HIV medicines and then must change medicines.

Current prevention tools for HIV, such as using condoms correctly and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), work well. But researchers believe a preventive HIV vaccine will be the most effective way to completely end new HIV infections.

What research is being done on preventive HIV vaccines?

Some of the areas of interest being studied in clinical trials include:

  • The safety of preventive vaccines.
  • Whether a preventive vaccine protects against HIV infection.
  • Whether a preventive vaccine controls HIV if a person gets HIV while enrolled in a study. (Some people in a clinical trial may get HIV by having sex with or sharing drug injection equipment with someone who has HIV, while they are participating in the study. But you cannot get HIV from the vaccine being tested.)
  • The immune responses that occur in people who receive a preventive vaccine.
  • Different ways of giving preventive vaccines, such as using a needle and syringe versus a needle-free device.

Where can I get more information about clinical trials studying preventive HIV vaccines?

A list of clinical trials on preventive HIV vaccines is available from the AIDSinfo database of ClinicalTrials.gov study summaries. Click on the title of any trial in the list to see more information about the study.

If you are interested in participating in a vaccine study, you can also contact the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Vaccine Research Center by calling 866-833-LIFE (5433) or by emailing vaccines@nih.gov.

Where can I learn more about preventive HIV vaccine research?

Visit the websites below to learn more about preventive HIV vaccine research. This fact sheet is based on information from these sources:

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