No Zika vaccine for another three years: Brazil expert

GENEVA: Global health experts agreed Wednesday to prioritise developing vaccines against the Zika virus suspected of causing birth defects, but a Brazilian specialist warned that doing so would take at least three years.

“Perhaps in three years we will have a vaccine,” Jorge Kalil, head of the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo, told reporters in Geneva, acknowledging that even that estimate was “optimistic”.

He was among global health experts meeting in Geneva since Monday to determine what research and development should be prioritised in the fight against Zika, which has been spreading most rapidly in the Americas.

Zika was previously only known to cause moderate cold and flu-like symptoms, but increasing evidence indicates the virus may be connected to multiple neurological disorders, as well as microcephaly, a severe birth defect in which babies are born with smaller heads and brains.

Experts have agreed that efforts should focus on developing vaccines particularly for women of child-bearing age, as well as on creating accurate diagnostic tests and innovative vector control tools to reduce mosquito populations, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

WHO’s deputy director for health systems and innovation Marie-Paule Kieny told reporters work was under way to develop an emergency vaccine “product profile” to help stake out regulatory requirements and help guide developers.