No women's Zika vaccine likely before 2020: WHO

Physical therapist Isana Santana treating Ruan Hentique dos Santos, suffering from microcephaly caught through an Aedes Aegypti mosquito bite, at Obras Socias irma dulce hospital in Salvador, Brazil on Jan 28, 2016.
Physical therapist Isana Santana treating Ruan Hentique dos Santos, suffering from microcephaly caught through an Aedes Aegypti mosquito bite, at Obras Socias irma dulce hospital in Salvador, Brazil on Jan 28, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP) - About forty potential vaccines for the Zika virus are being tested, but none are likely to be available for women of childbearing age before 2020, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday (Feb 1).

WHO director Margaret Chan said the virus, linked to deformations in babies' heads and brains, remained "firmly entrenched" in large parts of the world.

Although progress toward effective prevention has been made, with some drugs now in clinical trials, "a vaccine judged safe enough for use in women of childbearing age may not be fully licensed before 2020," Chan said.

The agency declared in November that Zika was no longer a public health emergency, though Chan said Wednesday that the WHO was setting up a new support programme for countries around the world.

The outbreak, which emerged in Brazil in 2015, has affected some 70 countries.

While Zika, spread by infected mosquitoes as well as by sexual contact, causes only mild symptoms in most people, pregnant women with the virus risk giving birth to babies with microcephaly, a crippling deformation that leads to abnormally small brains and heads.

In June, the WHO said US$122 million (S$172 million) was needed to fund an 18-month plan to fight infections in women of childbearing age.