Who's Afraid of a Little AIDS Vaccine?

Thanks to a recent scientific discovery, an inoculation that could kill HIV is within our reach. But will our distrust of the medical community keep us from welcoming it with open arms?

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Researchers announced earlier this month that a new discovery may pave the way to developing a viable AIDS vaccine. Scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) discovered two potent human antibodies that can stop more than 90 percent of HIV strains from infecting human cells. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the NIH, told the press, ''The discovery of these exceptionally broadly neutralizing antibodies to HIV and the structural analysis that explains how they work are exciting advances that will accelerate our efforts to find a preventive HIV vaccine for global use.''

While experts are cautiously optimistic about these developments -- believing that this is only the beginning -- most agree that this is promising news. Many vaccine attempts have failed in the past, and for the first time, there is actually some proof that this could lead to something real.

This is also good news for black America. Despite exhaustive HIV-prevention methods and campaigns, we still bear the brunt of this epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans make up 13 percent of the total U.S. population but account for nearly half of the 1.1 million HIV/AIDS cases in this country. And these rates are only getting worse; new HIV infections are steadily on the rise.

An AIDS immunization could potentially end the epidemic dead in its tracks.

But before we pop open the champagne, we must address that pesky elephant in the room. Before a vaccine can be FDA-approved and then distributed, it must go through a series of rigorous clinical trials that could last up to 10 years. And in that time, researchers would need a robust number of African Americans to participate in order to evaluate how the vaccine works for people of different races. Without our crucial involvement, it would be almost impossible for this vaccine to get approved.

But given our atrocious track record with the medical community, coupled with the polarizing stigma around HIV, how many black people are going to be eager to play guinea pig for the sake of the greater good?

Not that many.

Better yet, let's just say that an adequate number of us were to participate in these trials, and a series of vaccines were green-lit for mass consumption. Would we show up in droves at our local hospitals, clinics and health departments, begging to be injected with it?

Hell no.

One word: Tuskegee.