Phase I trials to determine the safety and immunogenicity of a Zika virus vaccine could begin as soon as late summer or early fall of this year, with a candidate vaccine by early 2017.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, made the announcement during a call with the media on March 10, stating that finding a vaccine to combat the increasingly problematic spread of the Zika virus is a top priority of federal health agencies.
Phase I trials “usually take several months – 3 or 4 months – to get an answer,” said Dr. Fauci, adding that he hopes to have “a candidate or candidates that are safe and can induce an immune response” by early 2017.
Dr. Fauci said that he hopes the vaccine could be selected for an accelerated approval schedule so that it could be manufactured and distributed as quickly as possible. That will, however, depend in large part on the state of the Zika virus outbreak in early 2017, a situation he called “impossible to predict.”
“What I can tell you is that we’ll be testing the vaccine in phase I [by] the early fall,” Dr. Fauci said.
Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, echoed Dr. Fauci’s concerns about the growing Zika virus outbreak in the Americas.
Having just returned from a trip to Puerto Rico, Dr. Frieden said he is “very concerned that, before the year is out, we could see hundreds of thousands of Zika infections in Puerto Rico, and thousands of infected pregnant women.”
Health officials, however, are making progress. The CDC and the NIH are closer than ever to understanding the links between Zika virus and the neurological conditions that have been associated with the virus, including microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
“Never before have we had a mosquito-borne infection that could cause serious birth defects on a large scale,” Dr. Frieden said, adding that “funding from Congress is urgently needed” to adequately attack the growing threat.
Another approach being targeted to fight the Zika virus is controlling the way it is spread – through mosquitoes. To that end, Dr. Frieden outlined a four-pronged approach to reduce exposure to mosquitoes “inside the home, outside the home, at the larval stage, and at the adult mosquito stage,” including using insect repellents and wearing long-sleeve shirts and pants.
“The bottom line here is that [this] is an uphill battle,” Dr. Frieden said. “We know we won’t be able to protect 100% of women, but for every single case of Zika infection in pregnancy we prevent, we’re potentially preventing an individual, personal, and family tragedy.”