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The Baltimore Sun

Too soon to drop AIDS vaccine effort

Rarely does one see in the editorial pages of an esteemed newspaper the kind of anti-science mentality displayed in the column The Sun published from two leaders of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation ("Enough is enough," Commentary, March 23).

They argued that because scientists have not yet made an AIDS vaccine after 20 years of trying, and it may take another 10 years or more to do so, all funding for AIDS vaccine research should stop. That is stupefying logic.

Would the writers have settled for iron lungs over continued funding of polio vaccine research 70 years ago?

The anti-AIDS drugs their foundation distributes were initially thought impossible to develop. But as a direct product of the billions of dollars in research and development funds and the years of effort invested in developing those drugs, today there are more drugs to treat HIV than to treat all other viruses put together.

That is what focused science can achieve.

The writers would use the money spent on AIDS vaccine research instead on the goal of providing AIDS prevention, treatment and care to everyone in the world who needs it.

That's a worthwhile mission but an unrealistic one; achieving it could cost an estimated $45 billion a year by 2015, which would eat up an unthinkable one-fourth of all international foreign aid.

There are sound scientific reasons to believe an AIDS vaccine is possible.

Continuing research on a vaccine not only is morally imperative, but it also will be cost efficient.

Lisa Beyer

New York

The writer is a vice president of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

The column "Enough is enough" was wildly off-base and showed a blatant disregard for both science and public health.

The recent results of the Merck AIDS vaccine trials have rightly spurred intense scientific inquiry. And there is no doubt that this is a sobering time in the vaccine field.

But it is important to remember that the results of the Merck trials only tell us that one vaccine has failed.

It is a grave error in logic to equate the failure of a single vaccine candidate with failure for the AIDS vaccine field.

And we must not lose sight of the real crisis - the full-scale AIDS epidemic that rages on. No one trial or one vaccine candidate will provide the solution to this crisis.

To assume that it will is to misunderstand the realities of the epidemic today and to overlook the lessons from history about the long, slow process of vaccine and drug discovery.

Historically, it has taken decades - and more setbacks than advances - from the discovery of a virus or bacteria until an effective vaccine is licensed. The measles vaccine took 42 years to develop; the polio vaccine took 47 years.

In the 1930s, two experimental polio vaccines failed because they were found to be unsafe, and polio vaccines were almost abandoned.

At the time, we understood how to prevent viral infections through sanitation and avoiding public swimming areas, just as we know how to stop HIV infection today. But we needed new tools then, just as we need new tools now.

To pit proven prevention and treatment against research is a false and dangerous dichotomy.

Scientific research is inherently uncertain, and the reality is that for every successful scientific discovery, there are hundreds of endeavors that fail.

Moving forward, we must expect more research setbacks and prepare to learn from them.

Millions of lives - today and tomorrow - depend on our doing so.

Mitchell Warren

New York

The writer is executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition.

Millionaire tax is better choice

As the General Assembly wraps up its work on the budget, it is searching for ways to repeal the unpopular sales tax on computer services, and to offset the $200 million that the tax would bring in ("Struggling with computer tax," April 2).

The best way to replace the computer services tax is the millionaire tax.

This would be a 1 percent or 0.75 percent surtax on income more than $1 million.

These taxpayers have gotten by far the most benefit from the federal income tax cuts over the past eight years.

More budget cuts would be the worst option.

Gov. Martin O'Malley cut the budget by $280 million last July to make a down-payment on dealing with the state's structural deficit.

In January, he incorporated another $500 million in cuts in his proposed budget - cuts that included significant reductions from planned levels of spending on education and health.

And over the last 11 weeks, the legislature's budget committees have been combing through the budget agency by agency with the assistance of a staff of budget analysts.

They have identified another $220 million to $260 million in cuts, including cuts to higher education, health care and environmental programs.

Imposing still another round of cuts would certainly reverse the state's progress in education and health care, curtail critical services for vulnerable and underrepresented groups and damage the state's future financial stability.

The right thing for the state to do is to expand and modernize the sales tax.

If we can't bring ourselves to do that, a very modest surtax on the state's wealthiest taxpayers would be much better than further budget cuts that would hurt the state's services for low-income and middle-income residents.

Neil L. Bergsman

Baltimore

The writer is director of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute.

O'Malley's agenda not worth cheers

Gov. Martin O'Malley presided over the largest tax increase in history in the "special taxing session" he called last year, and in January, The Sun's Laura Smitherman noted that "Gov. Martin O'Malley laid out an agenda on energy policy, public safety and the environment but predicted little movement on divisive social issues including gay marriage and the death penalty" ("O'Malley lists opening agenda for 2008 session," Jan. 10).

That ambitious agenda never once mentioned repealing most of the taxes he celebrated passing in the special session or the taxes that his spending policies now require after a surplus under former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. turned into a projected deficit of more than $1.3 billion..

Yet The Sun now attempts to convince its dwindling readership that, in fact, "finalizing the computer tax repeal and the BGE settlement - both of which must be done through legislation - would give [Mr.] O'Malley political victories after a cantankerous special session in November" ("Session set for hectic ending," March 31).

And after promising to reverse the 72 percent Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. increase as a candidate, Mr. O'Malley now throws at us a paltry $170-per-ratepayer settlement with BGE.

This is what Mr. O'Malley may celebrate, even as he still hasn't managed to solve the state's structural deficit?

I guess this is Maryland's equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

Douglas Dribben

Woodstock

Young killers get a slap on wrist

It saddened me to read that Zach Sowers had passed away. And I agree with Lisa M. Cooper-Doerr's argument that a criminal of any age should be punished ("No matter his age, a criminal must be punished," Commentary, March 28). I would add that the punishments need to be harsher.

How are young teenagers going to get on the path to do right and good things when the consequences for doing wrong are often so small?

For some 16-year-olds, eight years of prison and a free place to sleep and eat are hardly a deterrent.

Criminals still have freedom to breathe, read, write and communicate in prison.

Our system is far too lenient.

An innocent, young and promising man lost his life because of four thoughtless, careless young men.

The families of Zach and Anna Sowers will struggle with his death for the rest of their lives.

Who is being punished here? The perpetrator or the victim?

Drena Scurto-Diven

Sparrows Point

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