First Human Trial of |Zika Vaccine Launched

     (CN) — Federal researchers on Wednesday announced the launch of the first human clinical trial of a vaccine for the Zika virus, which could ultimately help slow the spread of the mosquito-borne epidemic.
     The announcement comes as officials from Florida and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention try to stem the local transmission of Zika around Wynwood, Florida, a neighborhood north of downtown Miami that experienced the first cases of local transmission within the continental United States.
     The clinical trial began Tuesday, and will include at least 80 healthy volunteers between the ages 18 and 35 at three locations across the United States. The primary goal of the researchers’ work will be to determine the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.
     “A safe and effective vaccine to prevent Zika virus infection and the devastating birth defects it causes is a public health imperative,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement. “NIAID worked expeditiously to ready a vaccine candidate, and results in animal testing have been very encouraging. Although it will take some time before a vaccine against Zika is commercially available, the launch of this study is an important step forward.”
     If the trial produces positive results early on, researchers plan to begin a larger-scale trial in Zika-affected nations by 2017.
     In addition to the institute’s clinical trial, several private companies are also researching potential Zika vaccines.
     Fauci said the vaccine would likely be distributed to women and teens of childbearing age and their sexual partners, given Zika’s connection to various congenital disorders including microcephaly, which results in reduced head size and potential brain damage in infants.
     The cost and time associated with developing new vaccines is typically burdensome for pharmaceutical companies, so their research generally focuses on improving existing treatments.
     Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, told the Washington Post that he plans to travel to Wynwood on Thursday to review the situation first-hand, after 15 cases of local transmission. A rare travel warning was issued after health officials faced challenges in eradicating the native mosquito population.
     “This is a complicated neighborhood,” he said, referring to the identified area of transmission. “It has schools. It has parks. It has industrial areas. It has arts area. It has business and retail. So figuring out how to control mosquitoes there is going to take a lot of creativity and a lot of community engagement because you have to get rid of every drop of standing water.”
     Frieden said the travel advisory issued by the CDC may be in effect for at least one year, depending on how much progress health officials make in reducing the local Aedes aegypti mosquito population — the primary vector of Zika.
     “Even if you go into every house, you don’t get to the top of roofs, you don’t get behind houses, there’s always some places you can’t reach,” Frieden said.

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