HIV/AIDS Vaccine Trials Halted in US. And It Is About Time. "I'm sick to death of hearing things from uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites! All I want is the truth. Just gimme some truth." - John Lennon
According to the Drudge Report, HIV Vaccine trials have been halted in this country because - guess what? - they were ineffective. So, I had to re-publish this article, containing new information, based on nearly two decades of professional experience in HIV/AIDS prevention.
My purpose in writing this is based entirely on a concern I have had for 20 years. As we draw closer to it becoming a reality, we desperately need to pay close attention to what we really want and need. Now the Drudge Report says that the HIV vaccine trials have been halted in the US, and I say it's about time.
I can't even fall back on the old cliche of "good intentions" when it comes to AIDS because from the very beginning there weren't any. What should have been treated strictly as a public health issue was obscenely hammered into a political - then a ridiculous "civil rights" - issue. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have died horribly because AIDS was prevented from being treated as a medical/infection control issue. The politicization of AIDS by the gay "community" - that is, the self-appointed representatives of gay people - caused the demonization of a public health threat. The logical outcome of that was the delay in treatment and prevention efforts on the part of public health officials who were not permitted to perform their duties because of the politically correct nightmare that was welded to the new AIDS cause. All of this is old news. Or it should be.
In the beginning it was easier for me because what needed to be done was pretty obvious. You went where the disease was happening and you did what needed to be done, which usually was typical sexually transmitted disease infection control. Today, you can't even call them sexually transmitted diseases. You have to call them sexually transmitted infections. That's because nobody wants to know that they have a disease. EVEN THOUGH THEY DO. This evasion of reality permeated the entirety of the HIV/AIDS industry and has, like the disease itself, infected all of infectious disease terminology to the current day. This semantic kowtowing to political correctness is an epidemic of reality that is as grotesque as anything HIV has been able to accomplish.
I will never forget the day this death of reality was hammered home to me. In the early 90's I was working for a warped organization called AIDS Rochester, Inc. in Rochester, New York. We were given a sheet of paper on which was written alternative terms to use when referring to people with AIDS. We were not to refer to them as HIV infected. "Infected" sounded dirty. So there were other options. I won't go into all of them, but one of them was actually "HIV challenged". I thought I was going to bust an artery. I calmly suggested that we call it a "chocolate sundae with a cherry on top" so everyone would want to have it. This pervasive denial of plain reality has been the parallel epidemic that, hand in hand with HIV, has decimated the ability to do real work in changing behavior.
But it was through working for that and subsequent other organizations that I learned that it was often prudent to say anything to a) politically kiss the backside of community pressure groups, and b) get funding from the Centers for Disease Control that was earmarked for the so-called "changing face of AIDS". This was a changing face that never existed, by the way. AIDS was the first public health crisis whose very symptomology was altered to please political special interests. The very first example of this was the addition of invasive cervical cancer to the list of criteria for the diagnosis of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Never mind the fact that this form of cancer in women can have other causes not related to HIV. For some reason, women wanted to be included in this funding stream, feeling apparently left out of the AIDS hysteria/media attention. Okay, they got what they wanted. Then the "changing face of AIDS" turned to the black community. This began the now tired slogan "people of color are disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic." Yeah, this never was true in this country, but the louder you yell, and the more entitled you feel, goes a long way with the liberal guilt that drives the CDC. And more of the genuinely affected " the homosexuals and injection drug users " were left to die or, equally as bad, to be delegated to the back of the line because they no longer were the flavor of the month. But we as educators and outreach workers were told and had to believe that these political considerations were fact. If you were white and gay, or an injection drug user, you wouldn't qualify for the photo ops for the yearly report, or the new brochure.
Some of us knew all along that the HIV infection estimates of 10 times the number of actual diagnosed AIDS cases were just not supported. And they weren't. The huge predicted surge in heterosexual transmission never materialized in the U.S. The big catch phrase in AIDS dogma in the last 5 to 7 years has been "we're seeing a rise in HIV infection among adolescents and young adults." This scripted phrase is something I have heard verbatim many times, usually from newly hired, starry eyed educators in the HIV/AIDS Industry, eager to take the oath. This was another statistic that was not at all borne out in reality. And even though we were brainwashed into saying "AIDS is not a gay disease" for years, the reality of it all was yes it was and is a gay disease in the United States. Not that gay people are at all to blame for it, or responsible for it. It is simple fact that by the weight of statistics that is just the way it is. There's that phrase again: Just the way it is. It's that thing nobody can deal with. But I don't give a damn about your ability to deal with it. Deal with it and get the hell over it.
Steadily and relentlessly over the last 10 years, new cases of HIV infection in the United States have stayed at about 40,000 a year. It could be worse, but something is not working. Believe me, no one at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is in danger of coming up with a working strategy. And it appears that not many in the major groups affected by HIV are that interested anymore, if they ever were. As long as one's civil rights equal their ability to have anonymous sex in parks, bathrooms and bathhouses, there's no end in sight for the traditional state of HIV/AIDS in the United States. Diseases transmitted by behavior are rooted not in whether someone uses a condom or not, but in the individual's own sense of motivation or self-worth to even entertain the idea that they're a life worthy of preserving by using said condom. But no one wants to hear about taking responsibility for their own life. Just give them dollars and condoms.
After all, it's worked famously, hasn't it?
This brings me to the current threat. No, not of AIDS itself, but from the real possibility of a vaccine. In the early 90's I was responsible for the dissemination of information about the new HIV vaccine program that had just begun at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY, still one of the major research and treatment venues in the country for HIV/AIDS. Because I was the major player in the community for HIV/AIDS education I found out I had become a target by the so-called Community Advisory Board for the vaccine program. A particularly arrogant medical student in neurology told a colleague of mine that I "was being watched" in my own, off hours behavior. My off hours behavior, by the way, was as boring then as it is now.
I made a half-hearted effort to bring this to the attention of Dr. Michael Keefer, head of the vaccine project, but I let it slide. I was warned by the polically correct bosses at AIDS Rochester,Inc. that it would not be "appropriate." Afterall, Dr. Keefer wasn't terribly perceptive about much that went on around him, like most doctors and scientists.
I bring this seemingly unrelated story up as a setup for what is to come. I was targeted for slander and libel because I dared, even back then, to suggest that, unless actual behavior changed, a vaccine would open the flood gates to rampant return to unsafe behavior.
Up until this point I had made a career of hanging out in unsavory environments, handing out condoms and teaching injection drug users how to clean their needles. I assisted in the first major groundwork for the needle exchange program that Rochester now has. I was also singularly responsible for the creation of one of the first fully funded men's outreach programs for HIV/AIDS in upstate New York.
This brings me to today. The current state of the HIV Vaccine Program at Strong Hospital is deplorable from the standpoint of an educator. Their "Get a Heart On" slogan turns my stomach, as do the posters that are blatantly stereotypical and reflect a complete lack of the proper skill set to change behavior. They just want blood. And, in this case, I am not referring to the future blood on their hands if this vaccine proves successful.
I had the supreme unpleasantness of meeting the two person staff of their so-called outreach staff a year or so ago and found people with absolutely no - ZERO - NONE - NADA - experience in outreach to gay men. This just goes to show you, never let a scientist do a man's work.
Folks, this isn't a personal diatribe for me to vent. I am genuinely concerned that because there are no really experienced people involved in changing behavior surrounding this disease we are in for a hideous ride. Even today there are things called Bug Chasing Parties where men line up, one or more of whom have HIV, and they are picked for unprotected sex by unknowing participants. There is actually a cult of "impregnating" someone else with HIV.
If behavior does not change a vaccine is MEANINGLESS.
This disease has killed people in the US simply because it was treated as a civil rights issue and NOT as a public health issue when it began. I said it at the start, and I will say it again. We need to get in touch with how much we care about ourselves enough to prevent a disease - a simple virus - from destroying everything. Maybe that means simple morality. Maybe - just maybe - "JUST KNOCK IT OFF" - is ok. From the beginning I preached that you must care about yourselves - God's temple - LITERALLY - to just plain think before you go down the endless vortex of sexual addiction. And it is an addiction. Just like everything else.
Even so, I still hear to this day so-called HIV/AIDS educators saying that "it only takes once". No it doesn't! Nobody knows that! The truth is that the Centers for Disease Control have still ignored to this very day that party drug addiction and chemical immune supressants are co-indicators for HIV infection. Yet, in my - sorry - personal experience, I have never known - out of hundreds - any HIV infected individuals who were NOT habitual users of pills, cocaine and other so-called "Party Drugs." These include Ecstacy, GHB, Special K and the list goes on. This is not to mention "poppers", which is an inhalant.
But, then, I remain talking to myself.
A so-called "community advisory member" said to me once that, "these are acceptable losses."
Tell this to the 61 people whose funerals I attended.
Andrew T.Durham is a graduate of State University at Albany, with a degree in Psychology/Philosophy. In the late 80's to mid 90's he was instrumental in creating ground-breaking outreach/prevention programs, as well as being a highly successful public speaker. A former acupuncturist and clinician (primarily to inner city adolescents), he has also been a consultant to the Massachusetts State Department of Public Health and several non-profit organizations. He is an accomplished musician - proficient in 7 instruments - ,actor and author of 10 plays, 5 of which have been produced. He is currently a consultant for small non-profit agencies and lives in Rochester, NY