|Survey Uncovers Surprising Attitudes Towards
HIV Vaccine Research
A survey of U.S. adults has found that a majority believe that HIV vaccines are the
best hope for controlling the global AIDS epidemic and are confident such vaccines can be made. But
while most of those surveyed felt it personally important to help support HIV vaccine research, a
majority expressed reluctance to support a friend or family member’s participation in an HIV vaccine
These were among the conflicting findings of a telephone survey of more than 3,500 adults to
assess attitudes, knowledge and awareness of HIV vaccine research in the United States. The survey,
conducted by members of the HIV Vaccine Communications Campaign of the National Institute of Allergy
and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, points to the ongoing
challenges HIV vaccine researchers face. A paper on the survey results is available online now and
will be published in an upcoming print issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune
“Tens of thousands of volunteers are required for the more than 30 HIV vaccine clinical trials
currently planned or under way,” says NIAID director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “It is essential
that current and future trials involve volunteers from diverse communities to enable us to find a
vaccine that works for all populations.”
“It is clear that we have a lot of work to do in explaining HIV vaccine research,” adds paper co-author
Matthew Murguía, director of the Office of Program Operations and Scientific Information in the
NIAID Division of AIDS. “We must develop strong partnerships with communities highly impacted by HIV/AIDS
so individuals from these communities can make informed decisions about participating in HIV vaccine research.”
The survey, conducted between December 2002 and February 2003, polled 2,008
U.S. adults aged 18 years of or older randomly selected from the general population.
An additional 1,501 U.S. adults
interviewed were randomly selected from each of three specific subpopulations
highly affected by
HIV — African Americans, Hispanics and men who have sex with men.
The survey uncovered some unexpected attitudes and beliefs:
- 47 percent of African Americans, 26 percent of Hispanics, 13 percent of men who have sex with men,
and 18 percent of the general population believe that an HIV vaccine already exists but is being kept a secret.
- Most subpopulation respondents — 78 percent of African Americans, 68
percent of men who have sex
with men and 57 percent of Hispanics — either do not know whether or incorrectly
believe that the vaccines being tested can cause HIV infection. Only 24 percent
of the general population
- Among men who have sex with men, 77 percent cited HIV/AIDS as the most urgent health problem.
Only a small percentage of the other groups surveyed, however, agreed: 11 percent of Hispanics,
15 percent of the general population and 22 percent of African Americans.
- In general, women had less knowledge and awareness than men about HIV vaccine research.
- High percentages of each group felt it was important to personally support HIV vaccine research:
89 percent of both Hispanics and of men who have sex with men, 86 percent of African Americans and 73
percent of the general population. Nonetheless, many were reluctant to express strong support for
friends or family members volunteering for HIV vaccine trials. Only 29 percent of the general
population and 35 percent of African Americans said they would be extremely or very supportive.
Hispanics and men who have sex with men were more inclined to be supportive: 46 percent and 68 percent,
The NIAID team also assessed trust in the U.S. government’s ability to protect
HIV vaccine trial volunteers. While about half of three groups — men
who have sex with men (50 percent), African Americans (55 percent) and the
population (57 percent) — said
they could trust the government to protect HIV vaccine trial volunteers, the
rate of trust among Hispanics was significantly higher at 78 percent.
Based on interviews, focus groups and media analysis, NIAID team members first developed five
key messages on vaccine research. They then designed the survey to determine whether these key
messages were the most important ones for the HIV Vaccine Communications Campaign to address.
These key messages were:
- There is currently no vaccine to prevent HIV infection.
- Only HIV-negative individuals can volunteer for a preventive HIV vaccine trial.
- You cannot become infected with HIV from the vaccines being tested.
- All populations must be involved in HIV vaccine research.
- An HIV preventive vaccine, complemented by strong behavioral prevention programs and AIDS care
and treatment, is the best way to end the epidemic.
The results of the survey, says Mr. Murguía, have helped identify which populations researchers
need to target for better understanding of HIV vaccine research, as well as which messages need to
be tailored to specific populations. The NIAID team will work to lower the barriers that inhibit
potential volunteers from diverse populations from participating in HIV vaccine trials and to increase
community support for those who volunteer for a trial.
NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services. NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose and treat
infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, influenza, tuberculosis,
malaria and illness from potential agents of bioterrorism. NIAID also supports research on
transplantation and immune-related illnesses, including autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies.
News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available
on the NIAID Web
site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — is comprised of 27 Institutes
and Centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health
and Human Services. It is the primary Federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research,
and investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common
and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs,
Reference: M Allen et al. Assessing the attitudes,
knowledge, and awareness of HIV vaccine research among adults in the United
States. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency
Syndromes. Published on-line before print on July 28, 2005.