18 Months From Zika Vaccine, Venezuela’s Outbreak Could Be Much Worse Than the Government is Reporting

mosquitoBrazil has been designated as the epicenter of the current Zika virus outbreak, but their neighbors to the north have become one of the breeding ground for the diseases spread. Unfortunately, relief doesn’t look to be coming anytime soon. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and reported by The Telegraph, worldwide industry leaders are still at least 18 months away from the prospect of a large-scale clinical Zika vaccine.

Institutions in India and the U.S. are leading the way in terms of working on the vaccine, according to WHO officials, but until that time they’re recommending pregnant women to avoid travel to places where the disease is known to be prevalent.

Venezuela is certainly one of those places. According to another story by NPR, the local government estimates there have been almost 4,000 cases of Zika since the outbreak began, but that might be a drastic underestimation.

Skeptical of the government’s data, a group of doctors known as the Network to Defend National Epidemiology started doing their own research. They believe the real number of people who are inflicted with the virus is much closer to 400,000 than 4,000. One of the group’s leaders is Dr. Jose Oletta, Venezuela’s former minister of health before Hugo Chavez took control of the country in 1999.

“The government has been completely opaque on this. They are keeping information from both the public and from the professionals,” Dr. Oletta said. “We looked at the number of reported cases of acute fever that health workers did not believe were explained by other diseases, such as dengue and chikungunya.”

Oletta and his group were able to obtain official health reports, but for security reasons declined to identify the source.

“Look, just like for a journalist protecting your confidential sources is a fundamental principle of the profession, I have to protect my sources. It’s an issue of people’s security,” he said. “But these are the official technical reports directly from the ministry of health. We have chosen to make them public because they shouldn’t be kept private. This information belongs to the public. It’s in the public interest to make it available.”

Meanwhile, WHO officials say 15 organizations are continuing to work tirelessly on a vaccine, which would be a huge development considering vaccines prevent more than 2.5 million deaths each year.

“Two vaccine candidates seem to be more advanced: a DNA vaccine from the US National Institutes for Health (NIH) and an inactivated product from Bharat Biotech in India,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO assistant director-general for health systems and innovation.