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Vaccine prevents HIV infection in woman efficiently

Sub-Saharan Africa-Female-Women-HIV-Infection-Vaccine

Image by jason sackey/Pixabay 

Prevention of HIV-infections has reached a milestone with a new drug that is administered intravenously and has proven more effectively than oral drugs, as the pharma company Viiv Healthcare announced in a press release from November 2020.

Young females are most at risk of contracting HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. This is shown by statistics from the organization UNAIDS, which collects the data on behalf of the United Nations.

These women could in the future be protected by receiving the new drug cabotegravir every two months. It is 89 percent more effective at preventing an HIV infection in women than Truvada, a pill that must be taken daily. The pharmaceutical company Viiv Healthcare published the results of their clinical study in November and is hoping to get the drug approved soon.

According to UNAIDS, women made up an average of 50 percent of the HIV-infected population in sub-Saharan Africa in 2019. Among the 15-to-19-year old’s, almost 85 percent of those affected were girls (see graphic). In addition, women between the ages of 15 and 24 were twice as likely to be infected with HIV as men.

To protect young women, researchers at Viiv Healthcare tested cabotegravir on female volunteers for the first time. In men, the drug has already been shown to be 66 percent more effective than Truvada.

HIV Infection

In 2019, 38 million people worldwide were living with HIV infection, of whom around 70 percent were given medication to reduce the amount of active virus in their body: the so-called viral load. This can reduce the chances of developing AIDS-related diseases and of spreading the virus to others.

However, approximately 7.1 million people around the world are unaware of their HIV status and can unknowingly infect others with the disease. In addition, sexual intercourse is not always consensual, or condoms are generally rejected. Therefore, young women require other means to protect themselves from an HIV- infection.

Preventing HIV and AIDS

An HIV infection is no longer a death sentence. Those affected can prevent the outbreak of AIDS by taking medication. In addition, an infection can nowadays be prevented with drugs. However, previously used means of protection must be taken daily, which according to Viiv Healthcare is difficult for many people at risk. That is why the researchers have developed a type of vaccine called cabotegravir, which is more efficient than previous active ingredients and only needs to be administered every two months.

Facts about the Clinical Trial

Cabotegravir is with 89 percent more effective than Truvada in women than in men, which shows the importance of having both sexes represented in clinical trials.

However, it should be noted that cabotegravir does not offer 100 percent protection, especially if the treatment is stopped prematurely. To be absolutely sure, those at risk should consider further measures, especially if the partner is knowingly HIV positive. In addition, the HIV vaccine carries the risk that the virus could become resistant to cabotegravir over time. This is especially the case if the treatment is stopped early, as the scientists who conducted the study admitted.

The Future

The effects of cabotegravir can be seen in the clinical study by Viiv Healthcare. It can protect the people most at risk of HIV infection in Africa: young women. The next challenge will be to distribute the active ingredient to those in need and reduce the risk for them.


  • Global HIV & AIDS statistics — 2020 fact sheet

Global HIV & AIDS statistics — 2020 fact sheet | UNAIDS


Published by Katrin Heidemeyer

Katrin Heidemeyer ist Doktorandin im Bereich Biochemie an der Wageningen University and Research. Durch ihre Arbeit möchte sie das Wissen über die Spezifität von Hormon-Signalen in Pflanzen erweitern. Da ihre Interessen über Pflanzenbiologie hinausreichen, schreibt sie in ihrer Freizeit über diverse Themen. Von Ernährung zu Psychologie, der Neugierde sind keine Grenzen gesetzt.

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