Progress made, but much to be done before Zika vaccine success
While medical researchers are closing in on a Zika vaccine, challenges remain even while another wave of infections threatens as the calendar draws closer to Spring. That’s according to a review paper published on February 21 in the journal Immunity.
While the mosquito-transmitted virus poses little health risk to most individuals, it has been associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome in some adults. More dramatically, Zika has been in the news for the last two years for its devastating effect on to the fetuses of infected pregnant women, resulting in severe birth defects. That’s why researchers are racing the clock to come up with a safe and effective vaccine as warmer temperatures invite another outbreak in North and South America and the Caribbean islands.
Animal clinical trials that began last autumn are going well, with three different vaccine candidates proving effective against mice and rhesus monkeys.
“The pace of preclinical and early clinical development for Zika vaccines is unprecedented,” said Dan H. Barouch, MD, PhD and director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and one of the co-authors of the paper. “In less than a year, our group and others have demonstrated that multiple vaccine platforms can provide robust protection against Zika virus challenge in animal models. However, unique challenges will need to be addressed in the clinical development of a Zika vaccine.”
While human trials are ongoing, researchers are still in the dark on many aspects of the virus while the stakes are incredibly high, especially for men and women of childbearing age. Another stumbling block is that some potential vaccines could cross-react with vaccines for other diseases within the same family of viruses, which includes dengue fever, West Nile fever and other potentially deadly infections. If that’s the case, a virus that protects against Zika could result in serious health risks from other causes to those in developing nations.
The bottom line is that the race to a vaccine continues. We’re getting closer to an effective prevention, but for now the disease is still winning.
By David Searls, Earth.com Staff Writer