Funds had to be borrowed from other research areas in the meantime
"We won't be able to backfill" those areas, the HHS director says
Congress approved $1.1 billion, short of the $1.9 billion sought
Rest assured, America: The billion dollars Congress just gave the fight on Zika will be well spent, even if it’s not enough and much too late.
That’s the message from Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and key public health officials Monday.
“We did not wait for legislation because the threat was too great,” said Burwell. “We redirected hundreds of millions of dollars from other vital priorities to fund vector control activities and vaccine and diagnostic research and development.”
Unfortunately, added Burwell, much of that redirected money will not be recovered.
“The damage that occurred because we took those funds will continue,” Burwell said. “Throughout the entire department we won’t be able to backfill, whether it’s from our Ebola research or funds that we had to take from the Administration for Children and Families or SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).”
“The money that Secretary Burwell gave us from the other institutes, namely cancer, heart disease, diabetes and mental health, none of that money is going to come back,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
President Obama asked Congress to provide $1.9 billion for the fight against Zika back in February, but partisan arguments kept the request locked up in the House and Senate. It wasn’t until after Zika arrived on the US mainland, in the Wynwood and Miami-Dade areas of Florida, that Congress acted and allocated $1.1 billion.
“There is a reason that we asked for the $1.9 billion,” said Burwell. “There were important uses for the money. There were a number of things we could not get started. “
One example, said Nicole Lurie, assistant HHS secretary for preparedness and response, was the need to start work early in the outbreak with outside companies in order to bring a vaccine or rapid diagnostic test more quickly to market.
“We had manufacturers walk away from negotiations with us because they weren’t sure if the money was going to be there,” said Lurie. “We are behind where we should be on vaccine development and diagnostic test development.”
Work is progressing, despite obstacles
The good news, according to agencies, is that the funds that were redirected have been put to good use.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is helping Florida and Puerto Rico fight active infestations of the Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that spreads Zika, and has developed Zika test kits that have been distributed to US states as well as 100 countries around the world.
“We will continue and extend our work, such as sending emergency response teams to partner with states,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. “And we are asking for research proposals on how to improve how we diagnose Zika, both short- and long-term, and how we control mosquitoes.”
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Fauci and Lurie stressed the success of the current DNA vaccine trial, which just enrolled its last volunteer, and which should move into phase two in early 2017. They said it is just one of nine different types of vaccines that are currently in some form of development.
“One of the important things we’ll be doing with the funds,” said Lurie, “is picking up those candidates and moving them into advance development when they are ready. We want to make sure we have manufacturing facilities in place to scale up and deliver the vaccines.”
“Zika is the latest in a series of unpredicted and unpredictable health threats,” said Frieden. “We learn more about Zika every day, and the more we learn the more concerned we are. This funding will allow us to better fight Zika and better protect babies.”