The 23rd Annual International AIDS Conference, the world’s largest HIV conference, fell during a particularly challenging time for the healthcare community this year. AIDS 2020 took place virtually at the beginning of July due to the COVID-19 pandemic but was still able to retain its uniquely diverse audience of Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, and other minority communities. Global Citizen’s partner Johnson & Johnson was a major industry sponsor of the conference, building on the company’s long-standing legacy of global leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
In April, Johnson & Johnson launched “The Road to a Vaccine,” a weekly original educational series that follows host Lisa Ling, journalist and producer, as she interviews scientists and healthcare workers on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. The series highlights the experts around the world who are working to bring an end to the pandemic while also combating myths around its spread.
As part of its participation in the AIDS 2020 virtual conference this year, Johnson & Johnson premiered “The Road to a Vaccine” Season 2 with a live broadcast from the conference. This special episode discussed the needs of the HIV community, why the development of an HIV vaccine remains essential, and how the learnings over the past 30 years from the quest for an HIV vaccine are being applied to accelerate the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
While there is still much to learn, we do know that both HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 disproportionately impact communities of color. “We’ve seen data pointing to disparities in COVID-19 care and health outcomes. Sadly, this is not new news. Systemic racism has left people of color exposed and unprotected against global health threats, including HIV, for decades,” says Macaya Douoguih, MD, MPH, Head of Clinical Development and Medical Affairs for Vaccines at The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson (Janssen). In fact, in 2018, Black Americans accounted for 42% of the 37,832 new HIV diagnoses in the US. Similarly, the APM Research Lab has reported that compared to Whites, the latest U.S. age-adjusted COVID-19 mortality rate is 3.7 times as high for Black Americans and 2.5 times as high for Hispanics.
Vaccines are essential to advancing our fight against HIV and COVID-19, and Johnson & Johnson is committed to both. The company is currently working alongside partners to progress studies for an HIV vaccine, which the company believes is the most advanced vaccine candidate for the disease. In addition, the company has now commenced Phase 1/2a first-in-human clinical studies on their COVID-19 vaccine candidate in the US and Belgium.
“Johnson & Johnson was built for times like these. Our vaccine development technology, deep scientific expertise, and strong global manufacturing capabilities provide us a unique ability to rapidly develop safe and effective vaccine candidates and upscale production to ensure we can get it to those who need it most as quickly as possible,” says Macaya Douoguih.
In parallel, the company is fighting for a more inclusive approach in HIV research to include women, members of the transgender community, gay men, and other underrepresented groups in order to accurately address the need for treatment across all demographics. Laverne Cox, a transgender actress and activist who has worked with both Global Citizen and Johnson & Johnson on HIV/AIDS prevention, was featured on the AIDS 2020 episode of “The Road to a Vaccine,” during which she discussed the need for inclusive treatment. “As researchers work to find a potential preventive HIV vaccine, it is hugely important to ensure the inclusion of everyone who is at risk, especially those who have historically been under-represented in medical research and may encounter barriers accessing quality health care. This is why I’m so glad that leading HIV researchers are including transgender individuals and men who have sex with men in HIV vaccine studies, as these groups experience an increased burden of HIV transmission.”
Click here to read more about the work Johnson & Johnson is doing to make HIV history.
Click here to learn more about Global Citizen’s partnership with Johnson & Johnson.