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Survey: Many in U.S. Misunderstand HIV Vaccine

Some People Voice Belief That Secret Vaccine Already Exists
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WebMD Health News

Aug. 9, 2005 -- In a new survey, many U.S. adults expressed hope that a vaccine would be developed to fight HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The survey also showed some misinformation about HIV vaccines, write researcher Matthew Murguia, MPubAff, and colleagues.

For instance, 18% of the participants stated that an HIV vaccine already exists and is being kept secret. That belief was also voiced by nearly half of the blacks, more than a quarter of Hispanics, and 13% of men who have sex with men.

In addition, fewer than one in four people didn't know that HIV vaccines can't cause HIV infection. More Hispanics and men who have sex with men got that right, write the researchers.

Setting the Record Straight

WebMD talked to Murguia, who works at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about the report.

"I think it's very important for people to understand that there is not [an HIV] vaccine," Murguia tells WebMD. "That affects whether or not they're willing to listen to prevention messages and treatment messages as well."

In addition, "it's important for people to understand that you can't get HIV from the vaccines being tested. A lot of people think you can because they think, 'How did we find a polio vaccine? We used polio to make the vaccine.' We don't do that with HIV vaccines. And in fact, there is no live virus in HIV vaccines at all. It's always synthetically manufactured particles that are used. And so, that's a key message for folks to understand that they can't get HIV from the vaccines that are being tested. They are safe," says Murguia.

About the Survey

The telephone survey included 2,000 men and women. Because HIV has hit some communities particularly hard, the researchers also included an additional 500 blacks, 500 Hispanics, and 500 men who have sex with men.

Participants rated how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements about the potential HIV vaccine. The survey may not reflect the entire population, write the researchers.

Best Hope, but Little Support

More than six in 10 survey takers agreed that HIV vaccines are the best hope of controlling the global AIDS epidemic. More than half of participants stated that it takes thousands of people to test a vaccine.

But a lot of people weren't so positive about the thought of a friend or family member signing up for an HIV vaccine trial.

Fewer than three in 10 stated that they would support someone they knew who was considering enrolling in an HIV vaccine trial. Blacks, Hispanics, and men who have sex with men voiced more support.

Safety Checks in Place

"Over the past three or so decades, the government has incorporated some extremely important safety measures and guidelines to ensure patient safety," says Murguia.

"We have all kinds of safety measures in place now that we did not have in the past. Therefore, the patient is foremost in terms of what our priorities are," he says.

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