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HIV Overview

What is a Therapeutic HIV Vaccine?

Last Reviewed: September 16, 2020

Key Points

  • A therapeutic HIV vaccine is a vaccine that’s designed to improve the body’s immune response to HIV in a person who already has HIV.
  • Currently, no therapeutic HIV vaccines have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but research is underway. You must be enrolled in a clinical trial to receive a therapeutic HIV vaccine.
  • Researchers are exploring therapeutic HIV vaccines to slow down the progression of HIV infection, and to eliminate the need for antiretroviral therapy (ART) while still keeping undetectable levels of HIV.

What is a therapeutic HIV vaccine?

A therapeutic HIV vaccine is a vaccine that’s designed to improve the body’s immune response to HIV in a person who already has HIV.

Researchers are developing and testing therapeutic HIV vaccines to slow down the progression of HIV to AIDS, and treating people with these vaccines would ideally keep HIV at undetectable levels without the need for regular antiretroviral therapy (ART). (ART is the recommended treatment for HIV infection and involves using a combination of different HIV medicines to prevent HIV from multiplying. Currently, a person with HIV must remain on ART to keep HIV at undetectable levels.)

A therapeutic HIV vaccine may also make it less likely that a person could transmit HIV to others.

A therapeutic HIV vaccine is a vaccine that’s designed to improve the body’s immune response to HIV in a person who already has HIV

Are there any FDA-approved therapeutic HIV vaccines?

There are currently no Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved therapeutic HIV vaccines, but research is underway. You must be enrolled in a clinical trial to receive a therapeutic HIV vaccine.

How is a therapeutic HIV vaccine different from a preventive HIV vaccine?

A preventive HIV vaccine is given to people who do not have HIV, with the goal of preventing HIV infection in the future. The vaccine teaches the person's immune system to recognize and effectively fight HIV in case the virus ever enters the person’s body. To learn more, read the ClinicalInfo What is a Preventive HIV Vaccine? fact sheet.

A therapeutic HIV vaccine is given to people who already have HIV. The goal of a therapeutic HIV vaccine is to strengthen a person’s immune response to the HIV that is already in the person's body.

Where can I get more information about clinical trials studying therapeutic HIV vaccines?

A list of clinical trials on therapeutic HIV vaccines is available from the ClinicalInfo database of ClinicalTrials.gov study summaries. Click on the title of any trial in the list to see more information about the study.

If you are interested in participating in a vaccine study, you can also contact the National Institutes of Health Vaccine Research Center by calling 866-833-LIFE (5433) or by emailing vaccines@nih.gov.