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Developing a Zika vaccine will take time (and money)

Mother Nadja Cristina Gomes Bezerra displays a photograph she had taken for identification of her daughter Alice Vitoria Gomes Bezerra, 3-months-old, who has microcephaly, on January 31, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants. Mario Tama/Getty Images

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The World Health Organization convenes an emergency meeting Monday to help determine its response to the Zika virus.

There’s no widely available test for the mosquito-borne illness linked to birth defects, and even the most optimistic estimates say a vaccine won’t be available until late 2016.

Developing a vaccine is no small feat. First, you need a lot of cash, said Dr. Ken Kaitin at the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development.

“It could take close to $1 billion to bring one successful compound to market,” he said.

Then, Kaitin said, given that pregnant women are at risk, that complicates the process for drug makers.

“In anything that’s dealing with pregnancy or children for that matter, you have an added obstacle because you don’t want to create a bigger problem then you are trying to cure,” he said.

A few of the biggest drug companies in the world are exploring vaccine development, including GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi.

The Zika virus could infect some 4 million people in the Americas, and that’s why Sanofi’s Dr. Paul Beninger hopes U.S. health officials round up all the pharmaceutical executives and put the screws to them.

“Putting the finger to every person in the room and say I need your help to do this. And I think people respond to that. It’s when they aren’t identified it doesn’t happen,” he said.

Beninger said as we saw with Ebola, the capacity to develop a vaccine is there. It’s just a question of unlocking it.

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