Disease Experts Warn Zika Vaccine May Be Years Away As Researchers Work On Detecting The Virus

A Zika vaccine might take years, even a decade, to be ready for the public, according to disease experts. These experts want to remind the public that producing a vaccine takes time to develop, testing to be safe and resources to produce it. Other experts believe a vaccine could be ready by the end of this year; however, it would be ready for testing rather than being available to the public overall.

Any vaccine must be rigorously tested for safety and effectiveness before it can be made available, and at this point, scientists still have much to learn about the Zika virus. As many as four million people could be infected by the virus by the end of the year, according to the World Health Organization.

The Zika virus has been linked to severe birth defects such as microcephaly, a condition in which infants are born with abnormally small heads, damaged brains, and impaired vision. Though the virus has not been designated as the definite cause of these birth defects, microcephaly has risen sharply in Brazil, the country which has been hardest hit by the Zika virus.

Dr. Jesse Goodman, a professor of medicine and infectious disease at Georgetown University, said, “It’s very important for people to be realistic. It is a complex process, and for Zika, it hasn’t been on the map until this exploded in Brazil.”

Between 2003 and 2009, Dr. Goodman was the director of the center at the Food and Drug Administration that approves vaccines.

Zika is similar to dengue and causes mild fever, rash and red eyes. An estimated 80 percent of people infected with the disease show no symptoms, which makes it difficult for pregnant women to know if they have the virus. There is no treatment at this time. The Huffington Post reports diagnosis takes up to two weeks in a specialized lab.

U.S. health officials say they’re using lessons learned from battling other mosquito-borne viruses in their efforts to produce a Zika vaccine. Two potential vaccines are based on vaccines created during the outbreaks of the West Nile virus and dengue, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“It is to our advantage that we already have existing vaccine platforms to use as a sort of jumping-off point,” Dr. Fauci said.

Dr. Fauci confirmed a vaccine could be ready for clinical trial by the end of this year, but it will most likely take years before it will be available on the market.

“It is important to understand that we will not have a widely available safe and effective Zika vaccine this year, and probably not even in the next few years,” he said.

As The Inquisitr recently reported, the World Health Organization (WHO) will hold an emergency meeting on Monday to decide whether Zika poses a global emergency. If WHO decides the Zika virus does pose a global threat, more research and work to fight the disease will be conducted immediately.

Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s Director General, said the virus is “spreading explosively” in the Americas.

“The level of alarm is extremely high,” Dr. Chan said.

According to the NY Times, many believe the Zika outbreak should remind public health officials to stop ignoring low-profile diseases.

“We need to have better tools for these diseases. We should not wait for the crisis to come and then start,” said Dr. Carolina Batista, the Latin America medical manager for the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative.

Will the availability of a vaccine for Zika ease fears of the disease’s spread?

[Photo courtesy of AP]