It seems every year we learn another lesson from viral epidemics. Last year the so far largest and most deleterious Ebola epidemic provoked an WHO-initiated overhaul of regulatory policies, aimed at accelerating the testing of treatments and vaccines that have shown promise in animals during times of crisis. The rVSV-ZEBOV trial was one of the results of this initiative and the success of the vaccine exceptional.
For new emerging pathogens, such as the Zika virus, the focus should now be on early strategic measures. Repeatedly during the last years, scientists and medics alike have pointed out the need for unrestricted data sharing during a disease outbreak to enable instant access to all available resources and knowledge. Now it seems publishers and health care organisations are finally ready to follow suit.
At the beginning of this month, the WHO has announced its ‘Zika Open’ initiative, in which all Zika-related submissions to its Bulletin will be posted online within 24 hours. Nature-branded journals will implement like-minded policies, whereby all Zika-relevant content – past or new submissions – will be made free to access until further notice, as you can read in their Editorial today. In addition, they advocate that authors make their data public in specific databases or on online platforms designed to discuss preliminary data analyses, such as virological.org, GISAID or ISARIC. All of this can be done before or while the paper is considered for conventional peer-reviewed publication and would save time especially when it comes to genetic, clinical and epidemiological analysis of new virus strains.
We can only hope that publishers and health organisations will fall back on similar strategies in the future to ensure that rapid advance in a moment of need is not hindered by undue restriction.