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Results from Gov. Scott's emergency Zika research is years away


The results of an emergency research push for a Zika vaccine announced last week by Gov. Rick Scott likely won't come to fruition for years.

Members of the state Biolmedical Research Advisory Council have been asked to get the grant program off the ground in the next four months with a three-year timeline for the projects that ultimately will be funded by the Department of Health.

On an emergency meeting held via conference call Tuesday, council chairman Daniel Armstrong said Scott's office asked them to move quickly. But in the world of medical research, that still means results could be months away.

"There is an emphasis on soliciting the best science proposals that can also move most quickly to helping us identify the vaccines, the testing methods and the associated impacts of this disease," Armstrong said.

Last Thursday, Scott announced the grant program, a rare use of his power under a state of public health emergency declared in February as travel-related cases of Zika first arrived in Florida. He set aside $25 million primarily for research into a vaccine and more efficient Zika tests.

Some scientists on Tuesday's call suggested the state should focus efforts on shorter-term outcomes. Michael Farzan, an immunologist at the Scripps Research Institute said that developing a safe antibody could yield results faster than focusing on vaccines.

"I don't believe that any conventional vaccine can be used in the short term," said Farzan, who is not a member of the Biomedical Research Advisory Council but spoke up during a time for public comment. 

As well, some Zika vaccine research has already begun, funded by the federal government and other sources.

The council plans to accept grant applications in the next two to three months and submit recommendations for programs to be funded to Surgeon General Celeste Philip by early February.

Less than one hour before the emergency meeting, Scott made a new appointment to the Biomedical Research Advisory Council, Susan Vadaparampil, 43 of Lakeland, a researcher at the Moffit Cancer Center. She fills a vacancy created Aug. 31.

"Like we do in every appointment, we want to ensure appointments are made in a timely manner," said Scott spokeswoman Taryn Fenske in a statement. "The governor’s top priority to is find a vaccine and enhance our Zika testing capabilities to protect every pregnant women and their developing children in our state."

Zika continues to be a point of concern, particularly in South Florida. To date, 109 people have been infected by the virus in Florida, according to DOH. Another 784 Floridians have contracted the virus abroad.