Science & Technology

UGA researchers working on Zika vaccine, can comment on virus

Ted Ross (Credit: Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Athens, Ga. – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that the Zika virus causes birth defects. Experts at the University of Georgia are available to comment on:

• Their work to develop a Zika vaccine.
• When Zika will come to the U.S.
• The search for a vaccine and questions and answers about the virus.


Ted Ross
GRA Eminent Scholar, UGA College of Veterinary Medicine

Ross is working with partners to develop and test a vaccine to prevent the emerging and virulent Zika virus infection.

His research group focuses on designing, developing and testing vaccines-including what are called VLP-based vaccines-for emerging viral diseases including dengue, chikungunya and Ebola, as well as influenza, respiratory syncytial virus and HIV/AIDS.

“Zika is a new and infectious virus to the Americas. We have been working on sister viruses related to Zika for many years—so dengue and West Nile,” said Ross. “So something has changed in this virus to allow it spread from mosquitos to humans much more easily than it has done before. So our concern is whether we can come up with a vaccine that can protect against all the old strains as well as the new emerging strains in the Americas.”

“A normal process for this would probably take seven to 10 years, but since the World Health Organization has declared this an emergency and the CDC will allow emergency use of the vaccine as it becomes safe and it has high efficacy. If this continues to spread in the United States, we could see something in the market in as soon as two to five years.”

Dr. Jose Cordero

Patel Distinguished Professor of Public Health, department head of of epidemiology and biostatistics, UGA College of Public Health

As a pediatrician and maternal health expert, Cordero’s expertise on Zika interfaces with the clinical and public health aspects of the disease-diagnosis, treatment and prevention for pregnant women and adults.

He also currently co-directs the PROTECT Center in Puerto Rico, which studies how exposure to environmental contamination has contributed to the high rate of preterm birth in Puerto Rico. This center assists the CDC in surveillance and prevention efforts in Zika in Puerto Rico. The center helps to educate Puerto Rico’s medical community on diagnosis, treatment and prevention of Zika infection.

For 27 years, he served in the U.S. Public Health Service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During his time at the CDC, he was the first Hispanic to attain the rank of assistant surgeon general and held a number of leadership positions focused on improving the health of mothers, children and adults in programs such as immunizations, birth defects and disabilities.

The most prominent of these roles included deputy director of the national immunization program and founding director of the National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

“It’s not a matter of whether Zika will come here, but when,” Cordero said.

Glen Nowak
Director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication, UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Nowak can speak on what’s involved in the search for a vaccine. He was recently involved in putting together a Question & Answer document for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers on Zika.

He spent 14 years with the CDC, where he served as the first director of communications for the National Immunization Program and then director of media relations. He has experience in managing and implementing health and risk communications programs, media relations, health information campaigns and social marketing.

“Zika brings many challenges, including to the U.S., because so much remains unknown or is uncertain. With the recent confirmation that Zika causes birth defects, it is especially important for pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant to be aware of health advice. Getting information and advice to those women is a high priority,” he said.

“It’s also clear efforts to prevent Zika’s spread are needed and quite important. Those efforts, along with greater public awareness, are needed as warmer and more humid weather brings more mosquito activity. That said, it is also important to remember that only two types of mosquitoes are known to spread Zika – and for outbreaks to occur, mosquitoes need to bite people who are already infected. Thus, while we’re likely to see mosquitoes cause Zika cases in the U.S., we hopefully won’t see large outbreaks.”