WHO: Zika Virus Will Soon Be Linked to Neurological Disorders

Vaccines may be years away

The World Health Organization (WHO) expects suspected links between the Zika virus and two neurological disorders, microcephaly in babies and Guillain-Barre syndrome, to be confirmed within weeks, according to a report from Reuters.

“We have a few more weeks to be sure to demonstrate causality, but the link between Zika and Guillain-Barre is highly probable,” Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, told a news briefing.

Kieny added that it would take at least 18 months to start large-scale clinical trials of potential vaccines. Two promising candidates are a DNA vaccine from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and an inactivated product from Bharat Biotech in India. The NIH vaccine uses the same approach as one being developed for West Nile virus. Bharat has announced that its experimental vaccine would soon start preclinical trials.

Approximately 15 groups are working on Zika vaccines, including France’s Sanofi and researchers in Brazil, according to Reuters. The Brazilian group recently formed a partnership with the University of Texas.

Many scientists are convinced that a solid link exists between the Zika virus and neurological disorders, and the recent finding of virus in the brain of an aborted fetus has added to the evidence.

In a related story, Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Castro said a vaccine could be developed as quickly as within one year, but he thought another two years would likely be needed for the large-scale rollout of a successful vaccine. That timeline is similar to one suggested by researchers elsewhere, many of whom say the clinical availability of a Zika vaccine is still at least three years away, Reuters reported.

Source: Reuters; February 12, 2016; and Reuters; February 11, 2016.