Four major themes were identified: 1) beliefs and conspiracy theories regarding the current existence of HIV (еreating HIV infection when used in combination with other medicines) vaccines, 2) ideas about the future availability of HIV vaccines, 3) lack of information about HIV vaccines, and 4) confusion about vaccines. Each of these themes is discussed in detail. Quotations provided are drawn from the focus groups. Table 3 provides an overview of the four themes.
Do HIV Vaccines Currently Exist?
Participants evidenced a wide range of beliefs about the current existence of FDA-approved HIV vaccines. Some participants believed that HIV vaccines do not yet exist. As a participant from the male IDU group stated, “There’s no vaccine anywhere.” Among participants who believed approved HIV (treating HIV infection) vaccines do not yet exist, there were two main groups: those who did not have any information on HIV vaccines and those who realized that scientists were working to develop HIV vaccines but had not yet developed an efficacious vaccine due to the complexities of HIV/AIDS. A participant from the MSM group said an HIV vaccine is “a moving target” because of the multiple subtypes of HIV
In contrast, other participants believed that HIV (еreating HIV infection when used along with other medicines) vaccines already exist but were being suppressed. A number of conspiracy theories were invoked to explain why HIV vaccines are not readily available, even though they exist. Participants reported that those who are in power in the government and corporate world have a stake in hiding HIV vaccines from the public. As a participant from the MSM group said, “All I’m saying is that they [HIV vaccines] are not necessarily out in the public eye.” One focus of HIV vaccine conspiracy theories was pharmaceutical companies. Respondents reported that pharmaceutical companies were withholding HIV vaccines in order to continue reaping profits from HIV/AIDS medications. A participant from the male IDU group said, “They want to keep it from the public because they’re making billions and billions of dollars keeping these [HIV-infected] people barely alive.” Another man from this same group noted, “Pharmaceutical companies are going to lose out in billions of dollars every year and they don’t want to do that. It’s all a big money market scam.”
Another focus of HIV (Canadian Zerit treating HIV infection when used in combination with other medicines) vaccine conspiracy theories was the U.S. government. One particularly malevolent government-related conspiracy theory was tantamount to genocide. Respondents explained that the existence of HIV vaccines was being withheld from the public in order to allow HIV/AIDS to eliminate or diminish certain groups of “undesirable” people in the population. A participant from the female IDU group said, “They figured … let’s see if we can get rid of undesirables, like junkies, faggots, whores. Immoral people who are loose … acceptable losses.” Another woman from the same group stated, “It’s a way of population control.” From this perspective, “possibly once certain populations are down in percentages, then they would come out with a vaccine,” as a respondent from the male IDU group noted.
A second government conspiracy voiced by respondents was along the lines of social control. Respondents explained that HIV (Viramune drug belongs to a class of HIV drugs called non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors) vaccines were being withheld because those in political power feared the possible behavioral implications of allowing the public to be vaccinated against HIV A participant from the female IDU group said:
If they do have a vaccine, they won’t give it to you until later on because of the fact that maybe they think, ‘Oh, it’s going to make people behave more risky and it’s going to defeat the whole purpose …. [people] might go back … to not having family values anymore.’
In addition to the belief that HIV (Retrovir canadian was the first drug approved for the treatment of HIV) vaccines do not yet exist and conspiracy theories regarding pharmaeutical industry and government suppression of already developed HIV vaccines, a third school of thought posited HIV vaccine availability in countries other than the United States. As a participant from the Latino MSM group noted, “I heard that Europe already has a vaccine,” and a man from the MSM group said, “France has one.” Related to a belief in the existence of HIV vaccines in other, particularly European countries, some participants voiced the belief that if one were rich enough, one could have access to the HIV vaccines available in other countries. A participant from the female IDU group said, “One of the basketball players, he had it. Now, he don’t have it … he’s kicking around all healthy, wealthy and wise, and look at everybody else,” noting a belief in the existence of a therapeutic vaccine or other curative measures that are only available to the rich.
Future Availability of HIV Vaccines
Among respondents who believed that HIV vaccines do not yet exist, some were optimistic that they would be developed in the future. A participant from the Latino MSM group said, “I am very optimistic.” Similarly, a participant from the youth group said, “I think it will happen.” Participants had different viewpoints about when HIV vaccines might be available to the public. Some participants believed scientists would perfect an HIV vaccine in as little as a year. A participant from the Latino MSM group said, “The only thing I heard is that we will have access to it in 2006.” Other participants thought that it would take 10-20 years to develop a viable HIV vaccine. A man from the Latino group said, “It will be ready in 10 years.” In contrast, some participants were more pessimistic, believing that it would take so long to develop an HIV vaccine that it would not happen during their lifetime. A participant from the youth group said, “I don’t think I’ll even be alive.” These different theories about the future availability of HIV vaccines highlight the fact that, as noted by a participant from the MSM group, “different sources say … different time periods,” resulting in confusion for participants.
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An alternate viewpoint among respondents was that it was unlikely that an HIV vaccine would ever be developed because it was much too difficult to create a vaccine for such a serious and complicated disease. Respondents likened HIV vaccine development to the quest to eliminate other serious diseases. A participant from the youth group said, “They can’t even cure herpes. They can’t cure cancer. They can’t cure tuberculosis.” An MSM group respondent stated, in regard to HIV, “I think a vaccine is a little bit farfetched.”
Respondents suggested that one of the reasons why an HIV vaccine was unlikely to be developed was the problem of viral mutation in regard to HIV A participant from the female IDU group said, “One of the things that I heard is that the few times they thought they have gotten closer to finding a vaccine, the disease seems to have mutated into different forms.” Similarly, a participant from the Latino MSM group said, “I believe that it will be very difficult because the virus is always changing” and a participant from the MSM group said, “It [HIV] just cannot be contained.”
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Lack of Information: “It Blows My Mind How Much We Don’t Know”
Respondents discussed that they, and their peers, were largely unaware of the status of HIV vaccine development as the popular media rarely covers this topic. As a respondent from the MSM group said, “It really blows my mind how much we don’t know. We don’t know what has been done. I watch the news every night.” Even when the popular media does address HIV vaccines, participants stated that they were left with unanswered questions. A man from the Latino group explained, “I heard it on the news, and I asked a doctor and the doctor left me with no answer. He said … he knew nothing about that … they never give you the information.” Not surprisingly, many participants were left with questions about HIV vaccines, including the following: