BALTIMORE (WJZ) — As the serious threat of Zika continues to grow, researchers are frantically working to find a vaccine that would aid in stopping the disease. Baltimore physicians are playing a major role, WJZ’s Devin Bartolotta reports.
With more than 6,400 cases of Zika already reported in the U.S., and the disease already circulating in Miami as of last week, the pressure is on to find a vaccine that works. Now, dozens of Marylanders will soon be used to help scientists stop the spread.
In more than 50 countries, including the U.S., the sometimes symptom-less Zika virus is on the move, terrifying pregnant moms-to-be, whose babies can be born with birth defects.
On Thursday, President Obama addressed concerns about the Zika virus, saying: “We’ve seen that the complications for pregnant women and their babies can be severe.”
Now, the war against the mosquito-borne virus has made its way to the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Soon, Dr. Kathleen Neuzil’s team will monitor the immune systems of 80 volunteers, hoping to find a vaccine.
“This is a major milestone, and it’s really a great collective response to a public health emergency, but this is not a vaccine that’s ready to be given to the masses,” said Dr. Kathleen Neuzil, director of the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Testing at University of Maryland and at two other locations will begin soon, but it could be a year–maybe more–before Zika vaccines are available to the public.
Because of the immediate need for protection, scientists are speeding up the process, which can take up to ten years, using an existing West Nile vaccine as a blueprint.
“So this was able to proceed more quickly because we already had a platform, if you will, for how to make this type of vaccine,” said Neuzil.
Emory University in Atlanta and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda will also be a part of the study. They’re expecting the results from this first phase by the end of 2016.
A private pharmaceutical company began testing another, separate Zika vaccine less than a month ago.