A safe and effective vaccine against the Zika virus is an important step closer, with the results of a major study published in the journal Nature.
The researchers said, based on their findings, a Zika vaccine for humans ‘will likely be readily achievable’.
Researchers tested two trial vaccines, a DNA vaccine and an inactivated virus vaccine, in mice.
‘To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of Zika virus vaccine protection in an animal model,’ Dr Dan Barouch from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre and Harvard Medical School said.
‘We need to be cautious about extrapolating the results from mice to humans,’ he said.
‘But based on the robustness of the protection, the demonstration that antibodies protect and the similarity with other related viruses… these findings certainly raise optimism that the development of a safe and effective vaccine against Zika virus against humans may be successful.’
Dr Barouch said human clinical trials of the vaccine should start as soon as possible.
The vaccinated animals showed no evidence of active virus after being infected with the Zika virus and both vaccines were safe as well as effective.
Vaccine deemed a global health priority
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Zika virus a public health emergency, with the development of a safe and effective vaccine deemed a global health priority.
Zika virus is transmitted primarily by mosquitoes and people with the virus can have symptoms including mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache.
Symptoms normally last for two to seven days.
According to the WHO, there is also now scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly (children being born with unusually small heads) and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Links to other neurological complications are also being investigated.
‘Protection was achieved by a single shot of the vaccination.’
Concerns about the Zika virus are heightened because the Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro in August where mosquitoes carrying the virus are found.
According to the WHO, athletes and visitors are at risk of being infected with Zika if bitten by an infected mosquito or through sexual transmission of the virus.
Because of the risk of microcephaly in babies born to women who were infected with Zika virus during pregnancy, the WHO advises pregnant women not to travel to areas where Zika is circulating.