How banning mRNA vaccines can harm HIV research

Earlier this month, two Republican lawmakers in Idaho introduced a bill that would criminalize administering vaccines with mRNA technology, which is currently only used for COVID-19 inoculations. This could have devastating effects in the fight against conditions like HIV/AIDS and cancer.

Researchers have been trying to develop vaccines for cancer treatments using mRNA technology for over a decade, according to the National Cancer Institute.

In March, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases began a clinical trial of three experimental mRNA HIV vaccines. While there is still no available cure for those that contract the disease, experts are hopeful about the possibilities of mRNA in preventing it.

“Finding an HIV vaccine has proven to be a daunting scientific challenge,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health, in a news release about the trials.

“With the success of safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccines, we have an exciting opportunity to learn whether mRNA technology can achieve similar results against HIV infection.”

The disease weakens the immune system and has the potential to cause AIDS, which further damages the body’s ability to fight off infections.

Roughly 38 million people around the world were living with HIV in 2021 and approximately 650,000 died from AIDS-related illnesses, according to UNAids, an organization working to end the epidemic of the disease.

Though no clinical trials are taking place in Idaho, experts worry about the precedent that the lawmakers’ actions could set for the future.

“These states are supposed to be the pillars of choice and getting government out of the way of people making choices,” said Joseph Osmundson, a clinical assistant professor of biology at New York University, commenting on GOP ideals.

“What you have here is a policy that if it were enacted in places that are running HIV clinical trials, would restrict people’s choice and people’s ability to do informed consent and to enroll in a trial on an mRNA vaccine for HIV.”

Clinical trials are taking place in the following states: Alabama, California, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington.

In Alabama, lawmakers have shown strong opposition against employers requiring their staff members to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

In 2021, Gov. Kay Ivey, signed a bill prohibiting public institutions and businesses from refusing people without COVID-19 vaccine passports and stopping them from accessing services.

Meanwhile, states like Hawaii and New York required people to have proof of inoculation to access restaurants, bars and other facilities.

Osmundson said restrictive policies in the South and in rural areas – including a law in Indiana that made it illegal to possess a syringe without a prescription that led to an HIV outbreak – simply make matters worse.

Indiana has since adopted some services to distribute clean needles and decriminalized needle possession.

“We see these patterns of these restrictive policies, not science-based restricted policies in the South, in conservative states, actually exacerbating the ongoing HIV crisis in the U.S.,” he said.

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