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Clinton's challenge: Find AIDS vaccine by 2007


May 18, 1997
Web posted at: 6:28 p.m. EDT (2228 GMT)

BALTIMORE (CNN) -- President Clinton Sunday proclaimed a national goal of finding a vaccine for AIDS by the year 2007.

In a commencement speech at Morgan State University, Clinton acknowledged that finding a vaccine would be a difficult task, and compared the task with President John F. Kennedy's call to put a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s.

"He gave us a goal of reaching the moon and we achieved it ahead of time," Clinton told graduates of the predominantly black college. "Today, let us look within and step up to the challenge of our time."


Director of National AIDS Policy Sandy Thurman said the president's initiative is designed to bring "scientists together."

Clinton announced the creation of a dedicated AIDS vaccine research unit at the National Institutes of Health. Between 40 and 50 scientists would be drawn from other programs to staff the center, with the federal government contributing $17 million. That's in addition to $131 million the federal government spent on AIDS research in 1996.

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Clinton calls for an AIDS vaccine:
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Clinton was spurred by recent progress in AIDS research, but he warned "there are no guarantees" with the new initiative. "It will take energy and focus and demand great effort from our greatest minds," the president added.

But Clinton said the question is no longer whether a vaccine can be created, but simply when.


Clinton's optimism is not shared by some AIDS researchers, however, and administration officials said preparation of the president's speech sparked intense debate about the feasibility of finding a vaccine in a decade.


Dr. Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, said last week there was a "serious possibility" no vaccine would ever be discovered. And Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said too many "unknowns" about HIV were "major stumbling blocks" to finding a vaccine.

But the president wanted to set a deadline to make clear that finding the vaccine was a high priority. He also chose predominantly African-American Morgan State for the announcement to underscore his commitment to the black community, which is disproportionately affected by AIDS.

Clinton also renewed a pledge ensure there is never a repetition of a government study in Tuskegee, Alabama, on poor black men whose syphilis went untreated for years.

"We must never allow our citizens to be unwitting guinea pigs in scientific experiments that put them at risk without their consent," the president said.

Clinton held an emotional White House ceremony on Friday during which he publicly apologized to the victims of the Tuskegee study, which began in the 1930s.

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