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Volunteers in Yucatán participate in groundbreaking HIV vaccine trial

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
HIV vaccine trials have begun in Yucatán, Mexico. Photo: File

Among those taking part in a phase-three trial for a new HIV vaccine developed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals are dozens of volunteers in Yucatán.

This is the third time a HIV vaccine candidate has reached phase-three human trials since the 1980s.

Medical professionals and policymakers have expressed cautious optimism. But specialists insist that it is not yet time to celebrate and that it is imperative to continue exercising a high degree of caution.

The team overseeing the vaccine trials in Yucatán is led by Dr. Carlos Antonio Cabrera May and his colleagues Dr. Juan Jose Rivera Alcocer and Dr. Jorge Armando Chacón Rodríguez at the Medical Attention and Clinical Research Unit (UNAMIS).

“México had never participated in HIV vaccine trials before, so it is exciting that the very first injection was administered here in Yucatán,” Dr. Cabrera said in a telephone interview with Yucatán Magazine.

Dr. Cabrera is also well known in Mérida as the executive director of Fundación BAI, a nonprofit organization offering free HIV testing as well as reproductive health resources, and he is the consulting physician for the U.S. consulate.

The Janssen Pharmaceutical vaccine was first announced at the Paris AIDS Society conference in 2017. 

“In recent years, a new optimism has emerged that we will find an effective HIV vaccine in our lifetime. The results from today’s study add to that belief and we look forward to advancing to the next stage of clinical development as quickly as possible,” said the Chief Scientific Officer for Janssen’s parent company, Johnson & Johnson.

Since then, 100% of participants in most clinical trials generated antibody responses to HIV.  Fatigue and headache were the most commonly reported adverse events to appear in volunteers after receiving the vaccine. 

The trial is based on a “mosaic” style vaccine approach, which includes genetic material from different strains of HIV that when combined, deliver a patchwork of immunogens into the body using a harmless viral vector that enables the immune system to recognize and fight the virus.

The vaccine trial will include 3,800 sexually active individuals in high-risk categories from Mexico, Peru, Brasil, Poland, Spain and Italy.  

Trials are set to last for three years and spots remain available at no cost for qualifying individuals. For more information regarding terms and eligibility, contact Unamis Diversidad Sexual at 999-211-0094 or visit www.unamis.com.mx

Some 70 million people have been infected with HIV and about 35 million have died from AIDS since the start of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. According to the United Nations, 38 million people globally were living with HIV in 2019 and roughly 10 million of those were children. 

Those interested in participating in the study must commit to attending medical consultations for three years, which is the evaluation time for this study.

Yucatán ranks third nationwide in HIV and AIDS infections, with more than 9,600 people living with this disease, according to statistics from the Federal Health Secretariat.

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