Trials for Johnson & Johnson HIV vaccine FAIL as shots were determined to be only 25% effective

  • Johnson & Johnson's HIV vaccine failed to show effectiveness after over three years of trials
  • Vaccine was highly anticipated as there is currently no cure to HIV or AIDS, which develops as a result of the former
  • HIV was first discovered in the 1980s, and many treatments have been developed for it since 
  • Moderna has also begun trials for an HIV vaccine using mRNA technology made famous for use in COVID-19 vaccines Trials for Johnson & Johnson's HIV vaccine have failed to demonstrate that the drug is effective in preventing the condition.

    The New Brunswick, New Jersey, based company held the trial, dubbed 'Imbokodo' in sub-Saharan Africa, and included 2,600 young women.

    Though the vaccine was found to be safe, with no serious side effects, its efficacy in preventing HIV infection was just over 25 percent, meaning it was considered a failure. 

    The trial was highly anticipated when it launched in 2017 as some hoped it could open the door to potentially eradicating the deadly disease.

    Johnson & Johnson's trial for a COVID-19 vaccine was deemed to have failed, after the shots only showed 25% effectiveness in preventing the virus

    Johnson & Johnson's trial for a HIV vaccine was deemed to have failed, after the shots only showed 25% effectiveness in preventing the virus. (File photo)

    HIV is a virus that attacks and damages a persons immune system. One the immune system has received enough damage, a person will develop AIDS. Pictured: A National Institutes of Health handout of a white blood cell infected with HIV

    HIV is a virus that attacks and damages a persons immune system. One the immune system has received enough damage, a person will develop AIDS. Pictured: A National Institutes of Health handout of a white blood cell infected with HIV

    'While we are disappointed that the vaccine candidate did not provide a sufficient level of protection against HIV infection in the Imbokodo trial, the study will give us important scientific findings in the ongoing pursuit for a vaccine to prevent HIV,' Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer of J&J said in a statement.


    Prior to 1996, HIV was a death sentence for almost everyone who caught the virus. Then, ART (anti-retroviral therapy) was made, suppressing the virus, and meaning a person can live as long a life as anyone else, despite having HIV.

    Drugs were also invented to lower an HIV-negative person's risk of contracting the virus by 99%. 

    In recent years, research has shown that ART can suppress HIV to such an extent that it makes the virus untransmittable to sexual partners.

    That has spurred a movement to downgrade the crime of infecting a person with HIV: it leaves the victim on life-long, costly medication, but it does not mean certain death.  

    Here is more about the new life-saving and preventative drugs: 

    1. Drugs for HIV-positive people 

    It suppresses their viral load so the virus is untransmittable

    In 1996, anti-retroviral therapy (ART) was discovered. 

    The drug, a triple combination, turned HIV from a fatal diagnosis to a manageable chronic condition.  

    It suppresses the virus, preventing it from developing into AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), which makes the body unable to withstand infections.

    After six months of religiously taking the daily pill, it suppresses the virus to such an extent that it's undetectable. 

    And once a person's viral load is undetectable, they cannot transmit HIV to anyone else, according to scores of studies including a decade-long study by the National Institutes of Health

    Public health bodies around the world now acknowledge that U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable).

    2. Drugs for HIV-negative people 

    It is 99% effective at preventing HIV

    PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) became available in 2012. 

    This pill works like 'the pill' - it is taken daily and is 99 percent effective at preventing HIV infection (more effective than the contraceptive pill is at preventing pregnancy). 

    It consists of two medicines (tenofovir dosproxil fumarate and emtricitabine). Those medicines can mount an immediate attack on any trace of HIV that enters the person's bloodstream, before it is able to spread throughout the body.

    The women from Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe who took part will soon be notified whether they received the vaccine or a placebo.

    The company will continue a parallel trial involving gay men and transgender individuals that is taking place in the Americas and Europe, where vaccine composition differs and so do the prevalent HIV strains. 

    'We must apply the knowledge learned from the Imbokodo trial and continue our efforts to find a vaccine that will be protective against HIV,' said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases which co-funded the study.

    The J&J vaccine uses similar adenovirus technology to its Covid-19 vaccine, and was delivered with four vaccinations over a year.

    A genetically modified cold virus delivers genetic cargo carrying instructions for the host to develop 'mosaic immunogens' -- molecules capable of inducing an immune response to a wide variety of HIV strains.

    The last two doses also contained proteins that are found on the HIV virus itself, as well as a substance called an 'adjuvant' that is meant to further spur the immune system.

    The trial was analyzed two years after the women, who were aged 18-35, received their first dose.

    Researchers found that 63 participants who received the placebo and 51 who received the vaccine became infected with HIV, meaning the efficacy was 25.2 percent.

    The participants were offered pre-exposure prophylaxis medication (PrEP) to help prevent HIV infection during the clinical trial.

    The women who acquired HIV infection were directed to medical care and offered antiretroviral treatment.

    HIV was first discovered in 1981, when gay men in Los Angeles and New York were discovered to have severe immune deficiencies, with almost all early victims dying in agony within a few years of being diagnosed. 

    In 1982, the term 'AIDS', acquired immune deficiency syndrome, was coined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    HIV is a virus that weakens a persons immune system, making a person unable to fight diseases. 

    The condition can eventually develop into AIDS once someone's immune system has taken enough damage.

    More than 1.2 million Americans have the condition right now, and more than 700,00 have died since it was first discovered 40 years ago. 

    Treatments for HIV have greatly evolved over the years, and it is now medically possible for an person with the condition to medically prevent it from developing into AIDS. 

    People who stick to their HIV medication regimen should also live a normal life expectancy.  

    Finding a vaccine for it has been a goal for many health officials, though, as it would open the door to eradicating HIV and AIDS entirely.

    While the J&J attempt may have failed, Moderna - who also created an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine - will soon begin trials of an mRNA HIV vaccine.

    The trial is expected to end in Spring of 2023. 

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