A Chinese clinic had to reassure the public that participation in an HIV vaccine trial would not result in volunteers contracting the virus. Last Wednesday, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, an agency of China’s National Health Commission, issued an appeal for 160 HIV-negative volunteers to test the vaccine at clinics in Hangzhou and Beijing. After the recruitment drive was reported by The Beijing News on Tuesday night, it became a trending topic on China’s microblogging site Weibo, gaining more than 100 million views. But many people expressed fears that the trials would result in volunteers contracting the virus, with some asking why the scientists would not test the vaccine on themselves or even use convicted criminals as human guinea pigs. Discovery of killer cells could lead to one-shot flu vaccine On Monday, Wu Lihua, a doctor responsible for the project at the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University, where one set of the trials will be conducted, clarified what the tests actually involved and reassured people that volunteers would not develop HIV from the trial. The test was designed to determine the best time frame for vaccination, Wu said. The volunteers will be given five vaccinations, which are expected to stimulate the production of HIV antibodies, based on three sets of time intervals. The hospital will then observe how each set of time intervals affects the vaccine’s ability to provoke an immune response. Wu’s clarification prompted a surge in support for the trials and more prospective volunteers to contact the clinic about taking part. “After the plan gained massive attention on Weibo last night, more than 100 people have come to ask me today if they can serve as volunteers,” Jin Chuangchuang, a volunteer with Sunflower, a Hangzhou-based NGO that helps to look for clinical trial participants, said on Wednesday. Among the 160 volunteers needed, 56 of them will go through the trial at the hospital in Hangzhou, the capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang, while the others will go to a Beijing hospital. But Jin estimated that only about 30 of those who had contacted his organisation would be able to go on to the next step – a meeting with a doctor about their eligibility and health. “Most are deterred by the demands of time and location as they need to return regularly to the hospital in Hangzhou.” Girl’s death after rabies shot hits raw nerve in China Wu said that vaccines could only infect people with HIV when they were made using the full virus, but this vaccine would only use elements of the virus. But she had to warn the volunteers that they might face discrimination because they were at risk of giving a false positive when tested for HIV because the vaccine would still produce HIV antibodies. Wu said there was a 20 per cent risk of giving a false positive, but this risk would disappear within a year. China’s dodgy drug makers face hefty fines Jin said the clinical trial would take up to 112 weeks and volunteers would be required to visit the hospitals in Beijing and Hangzhou for vaccination and follow-up interviews on a monthly basis. The organiser said the project was “voluntary”, but the volunteers would receive a subsidy worth 15,000 yuan (US$2,200). Chinese scientists have been working on an HIV vaccine for years, with the country’s first clinical trials involving human subjects dating back to 2004. The hospital said that as of June last year, 302 vaccines had undergone clinical trials worldwide, but none had yet produced an effective vaccine to prevent HIV.