Companies and scientists are racing to create a Zika vaccine as concern grows over the mosquito-borne virus that has been linked to severe birth defects and is spreading quickly through the Americas.
Zika is now present in 23 countries and territories in the Americas. Brazil, the hardest-hit country, has reported around 3,700 cases of the devastating birth defect called microcephaly that are strongly suspected to be related to Zika.
The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO), stung by criticism that it reacted too slowly to West Africa's Ebola epidemic, is convening an emergency meeting on Monday to help determine its response to the spread of the virus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has activated an emergency operations center staffed around the clock to address Zika, agency officials told Reuters.
On Thursday, the WHO forecast that as many as 4 million people in the Americas may become infected by Zika, lending new urgency to research efforts already under way. Vaccine developers made clear that a vaccine for widespread public use is at least months, if not years, away.
The closest prospect may be from a consortium including drugmaker Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc (INO.O) that could have a vaccine ready for emergency use before year-end, according to one of its lead developers. Inovio's share price jumped as much as 13 percent on Friday.
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