In 2015, Zika came onto the world stage in a big way, rapidly spreading to over 50 nations and resulting in 1000’s of microcephaly cases. Immediately after, the World Health Organization considered the outbreak a global emergency.
Now, however, WHO is backing away from that emergency distinction.
Investigators have shown the link between Zika and microcephaly, and WHO now states that a “robust longer term” approach is warranted in battling the virus. It pulled the global emergency label recently.
Already, some professionals are criticizing the move.
Georgetown University professor Dr. Lawrence Gostin referred to as the WHO’s decision “quite worrying” in a statement, stating it “has offered reason for governments and donors to pull back much more” from an already “lethargic” reaction.
“That is a recipe for the very lack of preparedness the world has seen time and again with infectious diseases,” Gostin wrote.
In reaction to the Zika emergency, a lot of biopharma organizations and signed on to develop vaccines against a virus that, like others before it, largely caught the scientific community off guard.
The situation invites resemblances with the Ebola outbreak, which wiped out 1000’s of individuals in Africa as investigators worked feverishly to develop vaccines. The outbreak eventually waned as promising vaccine candidates advanced through the clinic.
To many in the vaccines community, the problem is familiar. Professionals have repeatedly voiced their issues about the reactive nature of R&D in the face of fast-moving outbreaks. Vaccine development is a long term procedure, but the scientific community and industry haven’t been able to get ahead of emerging diseases.
In an attempt to address this, GlaxoSmithKline has provided some sources to support in research towards viruses for which there isn’t much of a vaccine market, at least not yet.
Zika R&D, for its part, could have more durability, because the research is not influenced only by the public health problems. There are sales to be had, too, experts say. A vaccine could be conservatively worth $1 billion, as tourists would pay a high price tag for protection before they visit endemic areas.
WHO’s taking of the global emergency doesn’t mean it no long supports work against the virus, the agency said. In announcing the switch, WHO authorities said fighting Zika will continue to require “intense action.”