To commemorate National HIV Vaccine Awareness Day on Sunday, May 18, AIDS groups and experts issued press releases and launched initiatives aimed at sparking a resurgence of interest and commitment to finding a safe and effective vaccine for HIV.

“Basic HIV vaccine research must remain one of the many prevention strategies being pursued at a national level,” writes Rebecca Haag, executive director of advocacy group AIDS Action, in a press release. “We will continue to advocate for HIV vaccine research here in Washington, DC, and raise awareness of and support for HIV vaccine research across the country.”

The 11th annual awareness day, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, came on the heels of dissension in the AIDS community surrounding the value of vaccine research.

This past March, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) called for more funding to be spent on strategies that have been proven effective, such as prevention, routine testing and treatment—instead of vaccine research.  According to the AHF, the failures of recent vaccine trials—including a Merck trial that may have increased participants’ risk of contracting HIV—served as evidence of a rationale for shifting funding away from vaccine trials.

However, many vaccine supporters have spoken out against this argument, pointing to the importance of spending time and money on vaccine research.

“The failure of one vaccine candidate does not signify the failure of all HIV vaccine research. This setback, as have others, may be a stepping-stone to future success,” says Haag in her statement.

Other groups, including the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) and the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC), released similar statements asking people not to give up on the idea that an effective HIV vaccine can be developed.

 “An accessible preventive vaccine against AIDS could have a profound impact both on our efforts to prevent further spread as well as stigma associated with the disease and those living with it,” says NAPWA President and CEO, Frank J. Oldham Jr. in a statement.

NMAC is holding an HIV Vaccine Awareness poster contest, which invites artists to create posters encouraging people to join the fight against AIDS and learn more about HIV vaccines. Entries are due by June 30, 2008. (Click here to learn more.)

“Vaccines [have] often taken many years to develop, and must be tested in multiple trials with a diverse range of people to ensure that they work for the entire population,” said Paul A. Kawata, NMAC’s executive director, in a National HIV Vaccine Awareness Day statement. “If we want make this much-needed HIV prevention tool a reality faster, we all need to work together to raise awareness around, and participate in, vaccine research.”