Health officials push for vaccine against neglected tropical virus

By Declan Butler

When the chikungunya virus hit the French Caribbean territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe in a 2013–15 epidemic, around half of the population fell ill. Few people died from the disease, which causes high fever and severe joint pain. But years after the infection, many of those affected still struggle to dress themselves, to grip objects and to close their fists, says Fabrice Simon, a chikungunya researcher at Laveran military teaching hospital in Marseille, France.

Advocates are attempting to accelerate the development of a vaccine for this disabling disease, which is endemic in the tropics and sub-tropics — regions that are home to some 1.3 billion people. Epidemiologists, vaccine developers and regulators are meeting in New Delhi on 5–6 February to review the latest data on vaccine candidates, and to consider how to get the promising ones to market.

“The timing is right; there are promising vaccine candidates in the pipeline; what’s needed now is momentum,” says Johan Holst, a vaccine specialist at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) in Oslo, an influential body formally launched in 2017 to speed up the development of vaccines against epidemic threats. Its members include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, the World Economic Forum, the European Commission and several governments, including those of Germany and Japan.

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