Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Support PBS Shop PBS Search PBS


Check your local listings.

One of Earth's most relentless killers is a virus. Medical researchers are racing against time to stop it in its tracks.

For the past 20 years, scientists around the world have been confronting one of the greatest medical challenges in human history: the search for an AIDS vaccine. Like detectives on the trail of ruthless serial killer, determined researchers have relentlessly pursued the elusive HIV virus, trying to unlock its lethal secrets. Along the way, they have uncovered many promising leads, gaining critical insights into how to immunize the public against the agonizing disease HIV causes. But so far, the defiant microbe has evaded every attempt to defeat it.

With each passing day, as the epidemic spreads to new parts of the world, the search becomes more urgent. In the absence of a vaccine, another 60 million people may be infected with HIV by the year 2010.

ENDING AIDS: THE SEARCH FOR A VACCINE tells the story of this dramatic duel between man and nature, taking viewers from high-tech labs to clinics where dying patients seek treatment, and into the lives of those whose bodies—for reasons still unclear—miraculously prevent HIV from establishing an infection. And looking beyond the purely medical challenges into the wider cultural issues surrounding HIV, the film addresses the scientific, political, ethical, and organizational challenges of stopping the signature pandemic of our time.

The program is narrated by actor and AIDS activist Richard Gere.

"We're trying to teach the immune system to defend itself against what is arguably the most formidable enemy it has ever faced, an invader with seemingly unlimited ability to evade detection and defeat our bodies and defenses," says science journalist Jon Cohen in the film, summing up the tremendous obstacles to creating an AIDS vaccine.

Cohen, whose book Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine inspired the documentary, joins a roster of experts—including Anthony Fauci, Don Francis, Margaret Johnston, John Moore, Ron Desrosiers, and others—to relate a complex, intriguing, and often heartbreaking detective story—a story that is still unfolding. At stake are the lives of untold millions.

Ultimately, ENDING AIDS: THE SEARCH FOR A VACCINE remains a story in progress. There have been more failures than successes to date in the search for an AIDS vaccine. Millions of lives and many years have slipped away as researchers grappled with the scientific, economic and political challenges of finding a vaccine. But there is cause for optimism, and hope for a coordinated international enterprise promising to fund a new wave of research. However, there is a chastened realism now among scientists. Margaret Johnston of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases likens the task of defeating AIDS to the multi-generational effort that erected medieval cathedrals. She says, "Building a cathedral was a task that took generations. What was honored about the profession was you could contribute to a piece of that cathedral, and build a piece. And you knew that it wasn't going to be finished in your lifetime, or even your children's lifetime, but just knowing that you were contributing to something magnificent and great that was going to have an impact on the world and stand as a success of mankind's efforts. And that's what I feel like."

ENDING AIDS: THE SEARCH FOR A VACCINE was produced by Kikim Media and Quest Productions, who also created a related outreach website.