MERIDEN, Conn. (WTNH) — The Zika virus continues to spread in Central and South America, where much of it is concentrated.
There are currently 48 cases in the United States. Health officials say those people got the virus after traveling to the affected areas.
Protein Sciences, based in Meriden, is currently working on a Zika virus vaccine.
“The way we make vaccines is perfectly suited for this kind of emergency,” said Rachel Felberbaum, senior director of business development at Protein Sciences.
Work began on the vaccine weeks ago, before the mosquito-borne virus started making headlines. There’s a great deal of science that goes into making a vaccine. Protein Sciences is no stranger to this task. They’re world-renowned for their influenza vaccine, Flublok. As well as other vaccines for SARS and most recently Ebola.
Scientists look at the genetic sequence of a virus, which is called the outer surface protein. That gives them an idea of what’s needed in the vaccine to neutralize the virus if someone gets infected. Work on the Zika virus vaccine could not come at a more critical time, especially after the World Health Organization recently declared it a public health emergency.
“We’ve already started designing the vaccine, we’ve started the early phase,” said Felberbaum. “We are now in discussion with people from other governments and our government about how quickly to develop this vaccine. We believe we can have the first product for testing in six to eight weeks.”
The vaccine would be used as a preventative measure in areas greatly affected, such as Brazil, Colombia and the Caribbean. The risk is greatest to pregnant women since Zika has been linked to serious birth defects. A Zika vaccine could also be given to Americans traveling out of the country.
There is currently no approved Zika virus vaccine.