The Food and Drugs Administration has given clearance to Inovio Pharmaceuticals to begin early-stage testing of a new, DNA-based experimental vaccine that could be the answer to preventing Zika virus.
The pharmaceutical’s vaccine is designed to prepare the immune system to fight Zika by introducing genetically engineered material that mimics the virus.
The National Institutes of Health have fallen somewhat behind, as they too are attempting to create such vaccine, but they are swapping out the genetic material from its experimental West Nile virus vaccine as the AP reported.
While the virus is mainly transmitted by mosquitoes, recent studies have also found it can be sexually transmitted, which makes the development of a vaccine all the more urgent.
“It is mainly transmitted through mosquitoes. The Zika virus can also be sexually transmitted, but that's not what usually happens. One issue however is that the majority of those infected will never get ill and don't know they're carrying the virus. That makes the sexual transmission a little more likely,” Professor Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, a doctor and virologist at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg said.
Patients who have contracted the virus without being pregnant, including Spanish surfing gold medalist Marina Alabau, say the virus is “not that bad.” “There is too much alarm surrounding this. I had the virus and it wasn't that bad. I didn't even go to the hospital,” she said.
However, the World Health Organization has deemed an “international health emergency” due to the mosquito-borne disease, with the main concern being pregnant women due to the rare birth defects the virus can provoke in fetuses, especially microcephaly.
Additionally, the WHO is strongly suggesting that women who are able to postpone their pregnancies, should definitely do so, as well as encouraging safe sex, especially in the most affected areas or with people traveling from there.