The United States health authorities have marked a significant milestone by approving the world’s first vaccine for chikungunya, a virus transmitted by infected mosquitoes. The vaccine, named Ixchiq and developed by Europe’s Valneva, received the green light from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in individuals aged 18 and over who are at increased risk of exposure.
This approval is expected to accelerate the distribution of Ixchiq in regions where chikungunya is most prevalent. The virus, known for causing fever and severe joint pain, is primarily found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and parts of the Americas. However, its spread to new geographical areas has raised concerns about its increasing global prevalence, with over five million cases reported in the past 15 years.
Chikungunya can lead to severe and prolonged health issues, especially in older adults and those with underlying medical conditions. With no specific drug available for treatment, the only preventive measure until now has been to avoid mosquito bites.
Ixchiq is administered as a single-dose vaccine containing a live, weakened version of the chikungunya virus. Clinical trials in North America involving 3,500 participants reported common side effects like headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, fever, and nausea. Serious reactions occurred in 1.6% of recipients, with a few requiring hospitalization. Some experienced chikungunya-like symptoms lasting over 30 days.
The vaccine’s impact on pregnant individuals and the potential transmission of the vaccine virus to unborn children remains unclear. The FDA noted the need for further study in these areas.
Since its first identification in Tanzania in 1952, chikungunya has been recorded in over 110 countries. Public health experts warn that the virus could become a future pandemic threat as climate change expands the habitat of the mosquitoes that carry it.
Valneva has also filed an application for authorization with the European Medicines Agency (EMA), signaling a global effort to combat this emerging health threat.