How important is a Zika vaccine?


Two Zika vaccines have been declared successful in mice – welcome news as the virus has already cost many unborn lives

The success of two vaccines in mice is a “remarkable achievement,” says environmental and public health researcher Lenore Manderson in The Conversation, and the next step for the vaccines is to conduct clinical trials in humans.

“Our findings suggest that the development of a [Zika virus] vaccine for humans will likely be readily achievable,” say the researchers from Harvard Medical School in the US, whose results were published in the journal Nature.

A vaccine will be welcome news for those living in South America. The virus has directly and indirectly wreaked havoc on the lives of women at risk of contracting the virus.

Researchers have found a rise in abortions since public health warnings began discouraging women from getting pregnant in order to avoid giving birth to a child with microcephaly.

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study that investigated women’s responses to the Pan American Health Organization’s alert in November last year about the Zika virus in South America.

The warning included information about microcephaly and advised that women should avoid pregnancy.

In most Latin American countries, abortion is illegal or highly restricted, but women can access a resource called Women on Web (WoW), which offers abortion medications via telemedicine.

Eleven countries showed an increase in online requests for abortion medications through WoW.

These countries – Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela, Bolivia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay – all had indigenous Zika transmission and saw increases between 36% and 108% over baseline in requests for abortion medication through WoW after the PAHO alert, according to the study authors.

Manderson, however, raises questions about the link between Zika and microcephaly.

While Zika has been reported in around 60 countries including Australia, she says almost all of the 1,655 cases of microcephaly confirmed by WHO (as at June 22) have occurred in Brazil.

The concentration of cases in this region, predating the rise in the transmission of Zika, has yet to be explained, and only a small proportion of these cases of microcephaly have been shown to be linked to Zika, she says.

Despite questions, the World Health Organization reports that there is scientific consensus surrounding the link.

There is some hope for future breakthroughs towards understanding how and why Zika is involved in the development of microcephaly.

Researchers are currently studying a set of twins born to a mother infected with Zika; one twin was born with microcephaly while the other wasn’t.

“If we can pinpoint what are the variants, what are the genes involved, we could have a genetic test that could test on others that are pregnant to say if they are at risk,” Mayana Zatz, lead researcher from the University of University of Sao Paulo, told CNN.

A vaccine would not only prevent further cases of microcephaly in children linked to the Zika virus, but also the lives of many unborn children whose mothers are too fearful to carry their babies to term.

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