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May 3 — It'll be “very destructive” to other public health efforts if Congress doesn't provide the Zika funds requested by the Obama administration, the head of the NIH's infectious disease programs said May 3.
Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, reiterated previous statements about the need for Congress to appropriate the $1.9 billion requested by President Barack Obama in February to combat the mosquito-borne virus that's been spreading throughout the Americas, including nearly 700 cases in Puerto Rico (10 LSLR 04, 2/19/16). The outbreak has caused alarm because of a likely link to serious birth defects when the virus infects pregnant women.
The emergency funding request has led to a partisan fight, with Democrats calling on Republicans to fund the request, who in turn say they need more details from the White House (10 LSLR 09, 4/29/16). No further action is expected on Zika funding at least until both houses of Congress reconvene on May 9 after a one-week recess.
In the meantime, the White House redirected about $589 million primarily in unappropriated Ebola money to fight Zika.
“When you don’t have any money that’s designated, you have to” make a transfer, Fauci said at a May 3 briefing organized by the Pan American Health Organization. Those redirected funds came from money he said could have been spent on “whatever it was— malaria, tuberculosis, influenza,” but had to be moved to get started on work for a Zika vaccine.
“We need to get the Zika money to work with Zika, and we need to back fill the money that we diverted away from others to start the Zika effort,” he said.
Fauci said scientists could begin the phase IIb clinical trial of a possible Zika vaccine candidate in the first quarter of 2017. The phase IIb trial would test for safety and efficacy, he said, and could generate enough data to determine whether or not the vaccine candidate actually works. The phase IIb trial would involve several thousand volunteers in a region with a large outbreak.
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More information on the PAHO briefing is at http://bit.ly/1pYxWh4.
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