The Future of a Zika Vaccine

zika vaccine

The Zika virus, a mosquito-borne infectious disease that has been causing panic across the Americas, is steadily spreading throughout the continental United States.  It is forcing lawmakers and scientists to reckon with a possible public health disaster. Several teams of scientists have been working tirelessly for months to develop a vaccine for the disease, and their efforts are finally paying off.

Cloning the Virus in Texas

This week, medical researchers at the University of Texas in Galveston were able to successfully clone the virus. The implications of this breakthrough are potentially far-reaching: scientists can now create the virus in lab settings, allowing them to closely study the virus and more easily test possible vaccines.

Other groups of scientists working on the vaccine have hailed the cloning as a significant event in the fight against Zika. Researchers at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who are perfecting a baseline vaccine for similar diseases that the Zika vaccine shares qualities with, are conducting mice trials with their product. The Jenner Institute of Oxford University is also currently testing a type of vaccine on mice, with hopes to hold human trials in 2017.

Political Battles Over A Zika Vaccine

Although excellent scientific progress has been made in 2016 toward a cure for Zika, the virus’s proliferation has created chances for political opportunism from lawmakers in several countries. The United States government, in particular, is deeply divided about how much funding to provide Zika researchers and public health organizations.

In early March, President Obama proposed a $1.9 billion emergency funding bill to aid researchers and health officials in understanding and combating the Zika virus. However, both branches of Congress felt that this sum was too high — the Senate only approved $1.1 billion, and the House of Representatives further diminished the amount by only freeing up about $620 million for disbursement.

Continued disagreement by politicians could have a negative impact on the search for a vaccinated cure. Scientists and researchers are dependent upon federal funding for significant parts of their budgets, and shortfalls could affect clinical trials and other aspects of the vaccine search process. The future of the Zika virus, especially in North America, is largely in the hands of fickle, contrarian lawmakers trying to make a point.

Possible Issues With a Zika Virus

The scientific and medical communities are united around a common desire to find a vaccine for the Zika virus, but members of those communities are speaking out about potential problems that the vaccine could cause, rather than solve. In particular, researchers are concerned about Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS), a complex autoimmune disease recently associated with the Zika vaccine that causes temporary paralysis in patients.

Zika vaccines, like any vaccine, need to include a form of Zika in them to stimulate protective antibody activity in the body. Some researchers are concerned that the mere presence of Zika in the body, even if it is in a diminished or dead form, may cause GBS in patients who take the vaccine. The risk exists whether the vaccine includes live, attenuated disease cells or dead cells.

An Uncertain Future

For now, the collective wisdom among doctors is that vaccine production and research should trump other concerns, but budgetary issues and worries about GBS will certainly color the future of the Zika vaccine. Scientific progress continues to move inexorably forward on a cure, but as the Zika virus extends its reach into the United States, the efficacy of a potential vaccine is very much in doubt.


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