Is Lack of Communication to Blame for Lackluster HIV Vaccine Participation?

September 8, 2011

It's not a secret that getting people, especially those from communities with disproportionate HIV rates, to participate in HIV vaccine trials has not been easy.

So to better understand people's reactions and knowledge about HIV vaccine trials, researchers from the University of Toronto interviewed nine focus groups made up of "high-risk" communities in Ottawa and Toronto. They found that false perceptions dominated people's perceptions. A University of Toronto press release stated that results showed that:

  • Many people still believe that vaccine trials involve injecting a small amount of HIV into participants, a falsehood that could affect their willingness to participate in vaccine trials.
  • There is a distrust of doctors and medical researchers. The international vaccine trial was called off when researchers discovered a small subset of participants were placed at a higher risk of contracting HIV, but many people didn't believe this was an unforeseen consequence. Some participants believed the doctors/researchers must have been able to predict this consequence, and this reinforced their distrust in the medical system.
  • There is some confusion surrounding why HIV vaccine trials target people in high-risk communities. Some study participants saw this as unfair, from a social justice perspective.

Lead author Peter A. Newman, Professor at U of T's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work says the answer to bridging these knowledge gaps and regaining trust means researchers like himself need to do more outreach with the community. He said:

"We found that there is a general altruism towards HIV vaccine trials in these communities, and a feeling that people should participate 'for the greater good. But there is also a lot of overriding confusion and misunderstanding, which illustrates a clear need for medical researchers and health professionals to do a better job of communicating with at-risk communities before, during and after trials."

Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for and

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