Brazil Partners With U.S. Scientists to Develop Zika Vaccine

  • Vaccine could be ready for tests in a year, minister says
  • Government also plans to use genetically-modified mosquito

Brazilian scientists are joining forces with colleagues at the University of Texas to develop a vaccine against Zika as part of a government push to stop a growing epidemic of the virus.

It could take one year to develop and two more years to test the vaccine, Brazil’s Health Minister Marcelo Castro said Thursday. The government will fund research by scientists in Brazil and at the University of Texas Medical Branch with $1.9 million over five years, the Health Ministry said in a statement. U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration is asking Congress for $1.8 billion in emergency funding to combat the virus.

“We know it takes time, but there’s a lot of optimism that we’ll develop a vaccine more quickly than expected,” Castro said.

Brazilian authorities are growing increasingly concerned about Zika, as outbreaks of the virus spread throughout the country and beyond its borders to other Latin American nations. The mosquito-borne disease is linked to microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and potential developmental problems.

There are more than 4,000 suspected and over 400 confirmed cases of microcephaly in Brazil, according to Health Ministry data.

Stepping Up

Brazilian authorities spoke several times with the press on Thursday to show they are intensifying the fight against Zika, laying out their plans to eradicate mosquitoes while urging people to clean out areas where insects can breed. Authorities on Saturday are sending the armed forces and civil servants to help with the effort.

In addition, the government will work with international researchers on technologies to control the spread of the virus, including the use of genetically-modified mosquitoes, the minister said. When asked about an Associated Press report that the government hasn’t shared enough data on Zika with researchers, Castro said Brazil is being transparent with its global partners.

"We’re all very concerned about the situation arising from this epidemic," Castro said. "It’s not just a concern for our country, but an international concern."

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