The Sanofi Pasteur company announced today it has launched a vaccine research and development project to target the Zika virus.
"Our invaluable collaborations with scientific and public health experts, both globally and in the regions affected by the outbreaks of [Zika virus], together with the mobilization of our best experts will expedite efforts to research and develop a vaccine for this disease,” said Dr. John Shiver, Global Head of R&D, Sanofi Pasteur, in a statement today.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC News last week that based on past experiences with similar viruses, it may be possible for health officials to start testing a vaccine for the Zika virus later this year. The test would determine if the vaccine "is safe and effective," he noted.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert based at Vanderbilt University, said the vaccine would likely be a "killed" virus -- similar to a flu vaccine in which the virus is grown and then portions of the disable virus are used. A "killed" virus means it cannot lead to infection of the disease after it has been administered, as a vaccine, Schaffner noted.
While pregnant women are the focus of concern due to the virus' association with a birth defect, Schaffner said they would probably not be the first ones to get the virus.
"Although we're interested in protecting pregnant women, I think the actual strategy would be able to give vaccine to as many people in the population as possible," Schaffner said of regions affected by the outbreak. "It would reduce the risk of the mosquito becoming infected," and spreading the disease to pregnant women.