Lessons From Polio That Could Inform the Development of an HIV Vaccine

A Tale of Two Vaccines

José Esparza


AIDS. 2013;27(1):1-5. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Two vaccine trials that were conducted 50 years apart are reviewed and compared: the 1954 field trial of the Salk inactivated polio vaccine and the RV144 HIV vaccine trial conducted in Thailand between 2003 and 2009. Despite the obvious differences in science and historical periods, several lessons were identified that could inform the future HIV vaccine effort. Those lessons are related to paradigm changes that occur when science progresses, the need to test scientific hypothesis in efficacy trials, the controversies surrounding those trials, the need for strong community and political support, the participation of government and nongovernment institutions, the balance between implementation of other preventive and therapeutic interventions, and the priority given by society to develop a vaccine. If we have the humility and courage to apply some of those lessons, we may be able accelerate the development of an urgently needed HIV vaccine.


Almost 30 years after the discovery of the HIV, we are still struggling to develop an effective vaccine.[1] This study reviews two vaccine trials, one involving polio and the other HIV, conducted 50 years apart. Despite obvious differences in science and historical periods, several lessons are identified with the potential to inform future HIV vaccine efforts.