The Zika virus is spreading in the U.S. with nearly 3,000 infections reported. U.S. funding that could lead to a vaccine to slow the virus is tied up in partisan politics but if Congress can reach a compromise, President Barack Obama says it is likely a vaccine will happen sooner rather than later.
Following a briefing by top U.S. health officials last week the President urged Congress to find a path through so $1.1 billion can be released for research and other Zika control efforts. But he also vowed to veto a Republican bill that ties the funding to unrelated matters, like allowing Confederate flags to be flown at veterans’ cemeteries or cutting funding for Planned Parenthood.
“We’re beginning right now on a whole bunch of promising pathways to get those tests done so that in fairly short order we might have a vaccine available and people won’t have to worry about this,” the president said, according to Bloomberg. “The problem is right now is that money is stuck in Congress.”
Progress has been made already. A recently published study found that mice given a single shot of one of two experimental Zika vaccines were completely protected when exposed to the virus one to two months later, Reuters reports. One was a DNA vaccine developed by Dr. Dan Barouch of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the other came from researchers at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, MD. The latter was created from a purified but inactivated version of the Zika virus from Puerto Rico, with a research paper saying that antibodies transferred from immunized mice could be used to protect other unvaccinated mice.
Barouch said said that while it's important to be cautious about extrapolating data from a mouse model into humans, the fact the vaccines protected mice and that their antibodies protected other mice from Zika was good news for development of a human vaccine, the news service reported.
A number of companies have Zika vaccine efforts under way. Among those, Inovio Pharmaceuticals ($INO) two weeks ago moved into the first human trials with its candidate. And last week, Gaithersburg, MD-based Emergent BioSolutions nabbed a contract worth up to $21.9 million from BARDA to prepare a Zika vaccine for a Phase I trial.
The question now is whether the Democrats and Republicans can find common ground before they run out of time. Lawmakers plan to leave for their summer break after July 15 and return on Sept. 6. Last week, Senate Democrats blocked a Republican bill because of the unrelated policy riders attached to the legislation, including the provision for the flying of the Confederate flag and provisions to prevent money going to Planned Parenthood. Both Republicans and Democrats are prepared to blame the other for failure to pass funding for Zika.