The National Institutes of Health today announced the launch of its first clinical trial of a Zika vaccine.
The trial begins as the U.S. confronts its first Zika virus outbreak, centered in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, in which 15 people have been infected by local mosquitoes the latest being Anthony Moses Davis a.k.a Beenie Man.
Developing a vaccine and getting it approved by the Food and Drug Administration typically takes many years. Researchers have been rushing due to the urgency of the Zika epidemic, which is blamed for a surge in birth defects in Brazil and other countries.
Developing a vaccine for an ongoing epidemic is challenging. The Zika virus exploded in Latin America last year, striking a population with no natural immunity to the virus. Epidemics of new viruses often burn themselves out after a period of months, however, as more people become infected and develop lifelong immunity. By the time a vaccine is ready to be tested, there may not be enough cases to show whether it’s effective. Even if the Zika vaccine isn’t ready in time to prevent infections in Brazil, the country hardest hit by Zika, the vaccine could help prevent cases elsewhere in the world, said William Schaffner, a professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Although Zika first appeared in Africa, the virus has in recent years diverged into two strains: an African strain and an Asian strain, which has predominated in Brazil. If that Zika strain spreads to Africa, the population could be hit hard.
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