A Zika vaccine developed by the National Institute of Health is about to start clinical trials in humans, and the University of Maryland School of Medicine is one of just three sites in the United States tapped to evaluate the vaccine's safety and effectiveness.
It's an important step forward in the fight against the Zika virus, and University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers are playing a major role. Volunteers will soon come to UMD's Center for Vaccine Development to be injected with the experimental Zika vaccine.
"Since it's the first time that this vaccine has been in humans, even though similar types of vaccines have been in humans, we know we have to monitor very carefully, and these early trials are really all about safety and seeing if the body makes an immune response to these vaccines," said Dr. Kathy Neuzil, Director of the Center for Vaccine Development.
The goal of the vaccine is to block Zika, and contain the virus globally. A total of 80 people will be involved in the trial. They will be tracked by researchers for two years and monitored for side effects.
If the results are good, more trials will be done next year with even more volunteers. But it could be a while before the vaccine is ready for mass use.
"Under ordinary circumstances it can take 10-years or more before a vaccine starts clinical testing and makes it to market,” Neuzil said. “However, I think we saw an example with Ebola, that if it's a public health crisis we're able to really compress those timelines and get the vaccine out sooner."
With the threat of Zika creeping closer to home, and no way to treat or prevent the disease, scientists are scrambling to protect people. A vaccine will be a key tool, but health officials say you should focus on protecting yourself right now.
"This is just the beginning of testing, so when we think about prevention and control of Zika, we should not yet be counting on a vaccine,” said Neuzil. We really need to continue to emphasize the other prevention and control messages of mosquito control, avoiding mosquito bites, pregnant women being very careful."
If you are interested in taking part in the trial, you need to be between the ages of 18 and 35. Call 410-607-6156 for more information.
This is the second experimental Zika vaccine to head to clinical trials. The other is developed by a private pharmaceutical company, and it started clinical testing last month.