With Zika and Ebola making scary headlines, health officials are looking to vaccines as a means to turn these illnesses into preventable diseases. Here's a peek at some new vaccines on the horizon.
Universal flu vaccine
We might not think of the flu as particularly dangerous, but it actually kills an average of 23,000 Americans every year — more than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. Since the flu is a rapidly mutating virus, we have to create a new vaccine each year to protect against a limited number of strains. As a result, the effectiveness of the vaccine can vary, based on how close of a match the vaccine is to the strains that circulate. The good news: scientists have discovered a small part of viral protein that is consistent across all strains of the flu virus. They hope that, through studying these, they can finally develop a multi-year, universal vaccine.
Last year's outbreak made the search for an ebola vaccine all the more urgent, and the World Health Organization (WHO) accelerated the vaccine approval process to fight the epidemic. Luckily, two candidates have already gone through early clinical trials, and been found to be safe in humans.
The hunt for a vaccine against HIV has been active since 1984, when the virus was first identified as the cause of AIDS. Since then, a number of different methods have been tried and tested with varying degrees of success. But there are no shortage of challenges, and while some have shown promise, an effective vaccine remains elusive.
The virus has been making headlines in recent months due to its link to microcephaly and other negative birth outcomes, and the race to develop a vaccine is on. Unfortunately, it looks like a long road ahead. Vaccine development typically takes years, and most research into possible Zika vaccines is in the early stages. Still, with scientists all around the world giving it their all, there’s a chance we could see a Zika vaccine sooner than expected.
Chagas disesae is one of the world's most common Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), and chronic infection can lead to debilitating and potentially fatal medical problems. While the parasite that causes this disease is found mostly in Latin America, the CDC estimates that more than 300,000 people are currently infected with the parasite in the United States alone. A study last year demonstrated that one vaccine candidate can produce long-lasting immunity in mice, but human vaccine trials have yet to get underway.