A potential vaccine for the Zika virus has entered early clinical trials to assess its safety in humans, U.S. health officials announced Wednesday.
The DNA-based vaccine contains genetic pieces of the Zika virus. It is intended to promote an immune response that would protect against the mosquito-borne virus that can cause devastating birth defects, according to a statement from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
“A team of scientists here at NIAID worked tirelessly to rapidly develop this vaccine for clinical testing,” Dr. John Mascola, director of NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center, said in the statement. “DNA or gene-based vaccines induce antibodies, but they also can activate the cell-mediated immune response, which ultimately could yield strong and durable protection against disease.”
At least 80 healthy volunteers aged 18 to 35 will receive doses of the vaccine on differing schedules as part of a phase 1 clinical trial, the agency said.
Researchers will observe the volunteers during a 44-week period after their first dose, to monitor their health and determine if the vaccine is safe.
During follow-up visits, the study team also will take blood samples for lab testing to measure whether the vaccine is prompting an immune response sufficient to protect humans against Zika, the NIAID statement said.
NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “Although it will take some time before a vaccine against Zika is commercially available, the launch of this study is an important step forward.”
There is no vaccine or treatment for infection with Zika virus. While most people who are infected only experience mild symptoms, the virus can cause the birth defect microcephaly, which results in babies born with undersized heads and underdeveloped brains.
The United States is experiencing its first-ever outbreak of Zika, in a one-square-mile neighborhood north of Miami called Wynwood.
Florida health officials identified a new local Zika infection on Tuesday, bringing to 15 the number of people infected via mosquito bite during the outbreak, the Miami Herald reported.
The cases include 13 people in Miami-Dade County and two in neighboring Broward County. All but the latest patient apparently had been infected in the Wynwood area.
The latest case has officials worried that mosquitoes are spreading the virus beyond the Wynwood neighborhood, the Herald reported.
“We are investigating that carefully, and if we do identify another area of local transmission, we will put out an advisory,” Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health, said late Tuesday.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging pregnant women and their partners to stay away from Wynwood — the first time the CDC has ever warned against travel to an American neighborhood for fear of an infectious disease.