An international group of vaccine researchers is proposing a comprehensive research plan to tackle the risks of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, now confirmed to cause birth defects. Gregory Poland, M.D., head of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group and Editor in Chief of the journal Vaccine, has published an editorial with Ricardo Palacios and Jorge Kalil, both of the Butantan Institute, the largest biologics research center in Brazil.
The editorial - "Another emerging arbovirus, another emerging vaccine: Targeting Zika virus" - comes during the latest level of concern over Zika’s growing international risk and attempts to provide some accurate scientific background on the disease and its epidemiological history. Summary: It didn’t come out of nowhere – it has a track record.
The authors also outline eight steps they say are essential to corralling Zika and should be part of an urgent research program. They range from discovering clear mechanisms of Zika to finding its relationship to other similar viral infections carried by the same mosquito. They also recommend that the scientific community determine the best animal model on which to study Zika.
They also urge the immediate development of a global research fund that can advance vaccine research in the long term. Dr. Poland emphasizes that a vaccine won’t be developed overnight and the work will continue long beyond the current spate of media stories. Nor do they hold out a vaccine as a magic bullet. Continued work on patient care, public health, and mosquito control are all needed.
The researchers do sound an optimistic note: Rubella (German measles) vaccine effectively neutralized that high-risk virus-caused disease also a cause of birth defects, so there is hope on the Zika front. What’s needed they say is time and ample funding.