The HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) conducts HIV vaccine clinical research studies in order to develop a safe and effective vaccine to prevent HIV globally. The success of the HVTN is tied to the study participants and communities around the world who volunteer their time and so much more to support these efforts. Since the beginning of the HVTN more than 20 years ago, a focal point of engaging communities in clinical trials has been partnerships and collaborations with faith communities. Faith leaders have been and continue to serve as trusted voices and sources of support, information, and guidance to their members. As part of the HVTN’s commitment to continue to meet communities where they are, engaging and maintaining relationships with faith communities has been a critical function of the HVTN’s work.
With the emergence of COVID-19, the HVTN and 3 other existing clinical trials networks merged to form the COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN), enrolling thousands of volunteers for large-scale Phase 3 clinical trials testing a variety of investigational vaccines and monoclonal antibodies to protect people from COVID-19. Understanding the Importance of community engagement in vaccine trials and the incredible work of faith leaders building bridges of understanding between faith and HIV science, the CoVPN implemented a robust community engagement strategy that featured a formal Faith Initiative to engage people of faith around COVID-19 education.
In the 12 months since the CoVPN Faith Initiative launched, 7 faith ambassadors who are geographically distributed across the U.S. have established, trained, and enhanced networks of faith and community leaders to conduct COVID-19 educational activities for U.S. communities most impacted by COVID-19, namely Black, LatinX, and Native and Indigenous peoples. The collective efforts of the CoVPN Faith Initiative have reached hundreds of thousands of people across hundreds of events that have helped them move from COVID ignorance to COVID competency; from vaccine hesitancy to vaccine acceptance and accessibility; and from medical mistrust to medical accountability and reconciliation. The success of the CoVPN Faith Initiative shows what can be possible with a similar initiative for HIV, when we make substantial investments in both people and precision medicine. We have an opportunity to leverage this moment when people have never been more aware of viruses, pandemics, vaccine development, and the importance of participating in clinical trials, to establish a formal HIV Vaccine Trials Network Faith Initiative and overarching community engagement strategy to further heal the divide between the science and the sacred. UBtheCURE LLC, a Chicago-based consulting company operating at the intersection of faith, health, and human rights, will direct the establishment of the HVTN Faith Initiative under the leadership of current CoVPN Faith Ambassador, Immunologist, and long-time HVTN partner, Dr. Ulysses Burley III.
CoVPN Faith Initiative Team
The establishment of the HVTN Faith Initiative will help create an environment where people who often have to leave their neighborhoods to access HIV and other health-related services will no longer need to, because we will have equipped houses of worship and community centers all over the country with tools to service their own constituents – possibly with an eventual safe and effective HIV vaccine -- just as we’ve witnessed faith institutions become vaccine distribution centers for COVID-19 throughout the country. We have all the science and medicine we need to eliminate the threat of HIV and other public health crises in this decade; what we need now more than ever, is to treat people and not just disease. The HVTN Faith Initiative proposes a people-first approach to increase awareness, competency, and trust in biomedicine developed in line with the belief across all faiths that life is sacred and therefore must be protected.