Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

April 05, 2008

Too soon to drop AIDS vaccine effort

Rarely does one see in the editorial pages of an esteemed newspaper the kind of anti-science mentality displayed in the column The Sun published from two leaders of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation ("Enough is enough," Commentary, March 23).

They argued that because scientists have not yet made an AIDS vaccine after 20 years of trying, and it may take another 10 years or more to do so, all funding for AIDS vaccine research should stop. That is stupefying logic.

Would the writers have settled for iron lungs over continued funding of polio vaccine research 70 years ago?

The anti-AIDS drugs their foundation distributes were initially thought impossible to develop. But as a direct product of the billions of dollars in research and development funds and the years of effort invested in developing those drugs, today there are more drugs to treat HIV than to treat all other viruses put together.

That is what focused science can achieve.

The writers would use the money spent on AIDS vaccine research instead on the goal of providing AIDS prevention, treatment and care to everyone in the world who needs it.

That's a worthwhile mission but an unrealistic one; achieving it could cost an estimated $45 billion a year by 2015, which would eat up an unthinkable one-fourth of all international foreign aid.

There are sound scientific reasons to believe an AIDS vaccine is possible.

Continuing research on a vaccine not only is morally imperative, but it also will be cost efficient.

Lisa Beyer

New York

The writer is a vice president of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

The column "Enough is enough" was wildly off-base and showed a blatant disregard for both science and public health.

The recent results of the Merck AIDS vaccine trials have rightly spurred intense scientific inquiry. And there is no doubt that this is a sobering time in the vaccine field.

But it is important to remember that the results of the Merck trials only tell us that one vaccine has failed.

It is a grave error in logic to equate the failure of a single vaccine candidate with failure for the AIDS vaccine field.

And we must not lose sight of the real crisis - the full-scale AIDS epidemic that rages on. No one trial or one vaccine candidate will provide the solution to this crisis.

To assume that it will is to misunderstand the realities of the epidemic today and to overlook the lessons from history about the long, slow process of vaccine and drug discovery.

Historically, it has taken decades - and more setbacks than advances - from the discovery of a virus or bacteria until an effective vaccine is licensed. The measles vaccine took 42 years to develop; the polio vaccine took 47 years.

In the 1930s, two experimental polio vaccines failed because they were found to be unsafe, and polio vaccines were almost abandoned.

At the time, we understood how to prevent viral infections through sanitation and avoiding public swimming areas, just as we know how to stop HIV infection today. But we needed new tools then, just as we need new tools now.

To pit proven prevention and treatment against research is a false and dangerous dichotomy.

Scientific research is inherently uncertain, and the reality is that for every successful scientific discovery, there are hundreds of endeavors that fail.

Moving forward, we must expect more research setbacks and prepare to learn from them.

Millions of lives - today and tomorrow - depend on our doing so.

Mitchell Warren

New York

The writer is executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition.

Millionaire tax is better choice

As the General Assembly wraps up its work on the budget, it is searching for ways to repeal the unpopular sales tax on computer services, and to offset the $200 million that the tax would bring in ("Struggling with computer tax," April 2).

The best way to replace the computer services tax is the millionaire tax.

This would be a 1 percent or 0.75 percent surtax on income more than $1 million.

These taxpayers have gotten by far the most benefit from the federal income tax cuts over the past eight years.

More budget cuts would be the worst option.

Gov. Martin O'Malley cut the budget by $280 million last July to make a down-payment on dealing with the state's structural deficit.

In January, he incorporated another $500 million in cuts in his proposed budget - cuts that included significant reductions from planned levels of spending on education and health.

And over the last 11 weeks, the legislature's budget committees have been combing through the budget agency by agency with the assistance of a staff of budget analysts.

They have identified another $220 million to $260 million in cuts, including cuts to higher education, health care and environmental programs.

Imposing still another round of cuts would certainly reverse the state's progress in education and health care, curtail critical services for vulnerable and underrepresented groups and damage the state's future financial stability.

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