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Many Americans think an HIV/AIDS vaccine already exists

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Many Americans wrongly believe that a preventive vaccine for HIV/AIDS has already been developed, according to surveys recently conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Nearly half of African Americans surveyed (48%) and more than a quarter of Hispanics (28%) believe that an HIV vaccine already exists and is being kept a secret. Twenty percent of adults in the general population share that belief.

The preliminary findings are from a national survey of 3500 people conducted by NIAID, a component of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The research included a 2000-person national survey of American adults and three smaller surveys of communities most affected by HIV and AIDS (i.e., African American, Hispanics, and men who have sex with men).

As a part of NIAID's efforts to educate the public about ongoing research, the Institute sponsored the Sixth Annual HIV Vaccine Awareness Day on May 18. Communities around the country and across the world have planned activities that will provide valuable HIV vaccine information to inform the public and begin to correct misinformation and misperceptions.

"HIV vaccine research is our best hope, along with other prevention and treatment efforts, to slow the spread of HIV," said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, MD "NIAID is committed to educating the public to help correct misconceptions and advance public understanding of ongoing and future HIV vaccine research."

The survey found significant support for HIV vaccine research. Eighty-four percent of the public believes that efforts to develop a vaccine to prevent HIV infection are "extremely" or "very" important compared with other medical research needs. Support for HIV vaccine research is even stronger among African American and Hispanic respondents: 96% of African Americans and 94% of Hispanics surveyed believe HIV vaccine research to be "extremely" or "very" important.

Despite that support, the survey indicated some additional, troubling misperceptions about efforts to develop a vaccine to prevent HIV infection. For example,

* Only 58% of those surveyed understand that vaccine development requires testing potential vaccines on thousands of humans before approval.

* Nearly one-third mistakenly believe that the HIV vaccines being tested can cause HIV infection in clinical trial volunteers; an additional 44% were unsure.

These misperceptions and the lack of substantive knowledge about HIV vaccine research underscore the ongoing need to educate the public about efforts under way to develop a vaccine that prevents HIV infection. This article was prepared by AIDS Weekly editors from staff and other reports.

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