Zika vaccine possible 'within months'
A Zika vaccine could be ready for human trials later this year, according to the man in charge of the US government's research programme. Dr Anthony Fauci, hopes to start testing a vaccine by September. About 100 Americans have been diagnosed with Zika after returning from affected countries. Scientists at the institute helped develop a vaccine for Ebola.
They are now trying to do the same for Zika, with a special focus on pregnant women because of the strongly suspected link between the virus and babies being born with under-developed brains. Dr Fauci said he's hoping human trials will start in America soon.
"We will have a vaccine ready to go into humans to test - not to distribute - but to test for safety and whether it induces a response that you can predict will be protective.
"That phase 1 trial I believe will likely start towards the end of this summer or early fall" But phase 1 trials are only the start of a potentially lengthy process.
If the outbreak starts to wane, as happened in the advanced stages of the agency's Ebola vaccine trials, it will not be possible to conduct big enough studies to confirm how effective the vaccine is in at-risk populations.
The Zika vaccine in development uses synthesised genetic information from the virus, rather than live virus, to trigger an immune response in the body. So if a person then becomes infected with the virus, their body is already primed to fight it.
Developing new vaccines can take decades. But scientists working at the labs in Maryland believe they can fast-track the process because they had already been working on a vaccine for West Nile virus, which is spread by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Dr Barney Graham, deputy director of the National Institute of Health Vaccine Research Center, where the vaccine is being developed, said: "The challenge is that we don't know a lot about Zika, but we know a lot about other flaviviruses. Zika is one of the flaviviruses."