Scientists are beginning the second phase of trials of an experimental Zika vaccine. According to a press release by the National Institutes of Health, researchers will enroll 2,490 individuals in the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and several other countries in Central and South America. The vaccine was developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“We are pleased to have advanced rapidly one of NIAID’s experimental Zika vaccines into this next stage of testing in volunteers. We expect this study will yield valuable insight into the vaccine’s safety and ability to prevent disease caused by Zika infection,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. in a press release.
The Washington Post reports that the goal of the trial is to determine both the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, as well as the optimal dose. The scientists predict that they could have the results by the end of the year, possibly opening doors for approval and distribution.
“If there is a good vaccine efficacy signal and there is an outbreak in South America, the FDA could make that vaccine available by different mechanisms,” Fauci said in a conference call to reporters, including The Washington Post. “But it depends on the emergent need of the vaccine and the quality of the data.”
As the weather gets warmer, health officials are urging people to take precautions to prevent Zika, which can be transmitted through mosquito bites and sex; so far, the disease has been linked to birth defects such as microcephaly.
“A safe and effective Zika vaccine is urgently needed to prevent the often-devastating birth defects that can result from Zika virus infection during pregnancy,” Fauci said in a press release. “Evidence also is accumulating that Zika can cause a variety of health problems in adults as well. This trial marks a significant milestone in our efforts to develop countermeasures for a pandemic in progress.”
The latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that there have been 5,197 cases of Zika reported so far, mostly from travelers returning from affected areas like Puerto Rico. In comparison, there have been 35,575 reported cases of infection within Puerto Rico.
While the Zika virus has devastated Latin American countries like Brazil, the United States has not experienced a widespread outbreak. Such an outbreak would likely put major stress on an already strained U.S. healthcare system. Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that by 2030, the country will be lacking over 90,000 physicians. This statistic is expected to increase to 130,000 in 2030. By quickly developing effective vaccines for viruses such as Zika, scientists can prevent a major health crisis.
For individuals living in at-risk areas of the United States such as Miami, this health crisis is real and immediate. This is why Fauci called successful vaccine development a “very high priority” on the reporter conference call.
“I’m totally intent on getting this vaccine to the point where it can be a usable vaccine,” he said.