An HIV vaccine is a hypothetical vaccine against HIV, the etiological agent of AIDS. As there is no known cure for AIDS, the search for a vaccine has become part of the struggle against the disease.
The urgency of the search for a vaccine against HIV stems from the AIDS-related death toll of over 25 million people since 1981. Indeed, in 2002, AIDS became the primary cause of mortality due to an infectious agent in Africa.
Alternative medical treatments to a vaccine do exist. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has been highly beneficial to many HIV-infected individuals since its introduction in 1996 when the protease inhibitor-based HAART initially became available. HAART allows the stabilization of the patient’s symptoms and viremia, but they do not cure the patient of HIV, nor of the symptoms of AIDS. And, importantly, HAART does nothing to prevent the spread of HIV through people with undiagnosed HIV infections. Safer sex measures have also proven insufficient to halt the spread of AIDS in the worst affected countries, despite some success in reducing infection rates.
Therefore, an HIV vaccine is generally considered as the most likely, and perhaps the only way by which the AIDS pandemic can be halted. However, after over 20 years of research, HIV-1 remains a difficult target for a vaccine.
The human body can defend itself against HIV, as work with monoclonal antibodies (MAb) has proven. That certain individuals can be asymptomatic for decades after infection is encouraging.