HIV TESTING: LA County Terminates Program
On Tuesday the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to halt a county HIV testing program "amid concern that it would lead to the use of poor blacks as guinea pigs for AIDS vaccines." The AP/San Jose Mercury News reports that the program to test 800 people will be suspended "until the Department of Health services reports on whether it is linked to a federal vaccine study." A motion by County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said that subjects of the testing program -- residents of housing projects and other low-income people at high risk of contracting HIV -- "might also be targeted for vaccine testing." Burke said, "We want to see if this money has any strings attached to it. We can't let people be used as human guinea pigs in that way. These government-sponsored human testing activities bring back haunting memories in the African-American community of the great injustices that were committed in Tuskegee in the early 1940s."
John Schunhoff, director of the county's public health department, said that the HIV-testing program was funded through a $500,000 Centers of Disease Control and Prevention grant to study the "efficacy and reliability" of a new HIV test that could produce results in a matter of hours while people waited at a health clinic. This "would be especially valuable for homeless people, drug addicts and others who might be unlikely to return once they've left a clinic," said Schunhoff (1/22). The AP/Sacramento Bee reports that the CDC said yesterday "it is not currently looking for any subjects for vaccines nor conducting any vaccine testing."
One Man, Two Tests
The "guinea pig" alarm was set off because Dr. Peter Krendt, the county's top epidemiologist, is spearheading "both the HIV-testing program and had a grant from the National Institutes of Health to find a group of people for studies that 'could, in the future, include the possibility of community testing of a vaccine,'" according to Schunhoff. Glenda Wina, Burke's spokesperson, said her office was alerted "that the HIV-testing information was being put into a database for upcoming federal trials of AIDS vaccines." The AP/Bee reports that county officials were concerned "that people who volunteered for such testing might be inoculated with fragments of the AIDS virus without a full understanding of the potential risk." Schunhoff said the "small fees" usually offered to research subjects could encourage low-income people to participate in the studies. "That poses ethical issues that would have to be looked at," he said. The AP/Bee reports that the NIH wants to test AIDS vaccines on about 10,000 people and "has begun recruiting subjects in several cities." Schunhoff said to his knowledge recruitment in Los Angeles had not been pursued (1/22).