Scientists taking part in the 23rd International Aids Conference online are more optimistic about a Covid-19 vaccine than they were about the HIV vaccine.

HIV Vaccine Trials Network executive director Dr Jim Kublin said there is a good reason to be optimistic.

“I think that type of neutralisation of the virus that was observed, with Zika and Ebola and some of these other viruses that we’ve been able to turn around vaccine development against very quickly,” he told delegates attending the virtual conference.

Kublin was part of a panel that focused on the current state of the Covid-19 across the globe. It included experts such as  Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute founder Dr Helen Rees,  AIDProject group co-chair Reverend Rob Newells and Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group member Dr Morenike Ukpong.

Access to Covid-19 vaccine should be a public good

Rees said that should an effective vaccine be found everyone should have access to the new treatment.

“The first thing is that that these vaccines must be regarded as a global public good, that they’re really in terms of equity and rights based arguments that they must be regarded as vaccines that have to be made equitably available all over the world,” she said.

But Rees also warned that the vaccine may not be immediately available for everyone.

“We also know that even if we have a successful vaccine today you know results that come out next year there by the end of 2021 (and) we won’t have enough vaccine even if there is one, for the whole world,” she explained.

She added that those who are working as nurses, doctors and other patient-facing positions should get access to a vaccine first.

“One group that’s seen as a major priority are healthcare workers and frontline workers. Because if we can’t and particularly if you take at the African region. You can’t protect your health care workers and they fall down… not only for COVID, they fall down for HIV for TB for every non-communicable.”

Covid 19  PrEP on the table

Rees said the development of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) learned during the response to HIV helped in the struggle to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.

This was lent credence by an earlier call by New York based PrEP4All Collaboration which approached the World Health Organisation to investigate the development of a PrEP as part of Covid-19 prevention strategy.

“What’s been happening since extensive work getting on, and people are looking at the two things,” said Rees.

“First of all, what’s called repurposing of existing drugs, and these could be drugs that are licenced drugs that are unlicensed and sitting on a shelf somewhere and so on drugs that might have been tried in a clinical trial and not successful but existing drugs, because that’s much quicker,” she explained.

She believes artificial intelligence and computer power which is being harnessed to investigate the effect of HIV drugs on other diseases will be crucial.

“We looked at some of the antibody antivirals we’re familiar with in HIV, but we’re (also) looking at antivirals for hepatitis C and so on so there’s a lot of the antivirals, the malaria drugs.”

Rees says that scientists are looking at drugs that are effective in supporting the immune system and those that act directly on the Covid-19 virus as well.

“The urgency of those trials is the same as the urgency for vaccines,” she said. – Health-e News