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Aug. 25 — The NIH will run out of Zika money by the end of September without additional funding from Congress, the agency's lead on the U.S. response to Zika told Bloomberg BNA.
“We have another looming crisis,” Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, said in an Aug. 24 interview.
The NIH has come close to running out of money several times this year, including at the end of August. But Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell authorized a $34 million transfer Aug. 11 within the NIH to allow scientists to continue work on a Zika vaccine (10 LSLR 17, 8/19/16).
“That will get me through September,” Fauci said, which marks the end of the 2016 fiscal year. “When we start the fiscal year in 2017, I will have run out of money again.”
When the NIH began its work on a Zika vaccine at the beginning of the year, Fauci said he “borrowed money from myself” to initiate the work. When that money dried up, the White House authorized in April a federal-wide transfer of funds of $589 million, which included about $40 million for the NIH (10 LSLR 08, 4/15/16). That money ran out at the end of August, so Burwell authorized the $34 million transfer by taking away money from other NIH institutes and centers to keep the NIH's Zika work afloat through September.
Mary Woolley, president of Research!America, told Bloomberg BNA that a piecemeal approach to addressing a public health emergency isn't a viable strategy.
“As more Zika cases are reported, threatening the lives of many more Americans, including children and pregnant women, policymakers must move quickly to increase funding for research, surveillance and treatment and prevention,” she said in an Aug. 25 e-mail. “With Congress set to reconvene soon, we urge lawmakers to waste no more time heeding the warnings of health experts, and provide substantial resources to aid states and speed the development of a Zika vaccine. We must put research to work if we want to eliminate this public health threat.”
Zika funding has been caught in a partisan battle since the White House made a $1.9 billion request in February. Congress adjourned for summer recess without resolving differences over how to fund the request, and partisan finger-pointing has continued since then (10 LSLR 15, 7/22/16).
David Popp, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), told Bloomberg BNA that back in July, McConnell scheduled another cloture vote on the Zika package for Sept. 6, which is the first day back from August recess.
“The bill continues to be blocked by Senate Democrats through the use of a filibuster. We would love for the president to convince his colleagues in the Senate to end that filibuster and pass the bill, but it doesn’t sound like he is prepared to do that. Apparently they believe an earmark for Planned Parenthood in the future is more important than preventing the threat of Zika now,” Popp said in an Aug. 25 e-mail, adding that the Senate is meeting twice this week in brief meetings known as pro-forma sessions.
“If the president would like to see a bill pass right now, Senate Democrats can end their filibuster and simply give unanimous consent to pass the conference report and send it straight to him this week,” Popp said. “If this week is too soon, we’ll have more sessions next week. Whenever they’re ready to stop blocking funding for anti-Zika efforts and funding for our Veterans, we’ll be here waiting.”
The Zika conference report also includes funding for military construction and Veterans Affairs programs. Democrats are likely to continue blocking advancement of the measure.
Democrats have blocked consideration of a House-Senate conference report for the Zika spending measure because they said it contained “poison pill” riders, including easing Clean Water Act rules to allow the use of insecticides to spray for mosquitoes. The bill also would have disqualified Planned Parenthood clinics from receiving public-health grants to treat pregnant women infected with the virus (10 LSLR 17, 8/19/16).
An aide for House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told Bloomberg BNA that the chairman “believes that all appropriate existing and untapped resources should be used to fight Zika.”
“Additional money may be needed, and that is why the House has twice passed responsible funding packages, which have unfortunately been unfairly and unacceptably blocked by Senate Democrats and the White House,” the House aide said in an Aug. 25 e-mail.
The NIH has already begun initial human testing on a potential Zika vaccine. But Fauci has said repeatedly that he can't conduct the critical phase II clinical trials, which test whether the vaccine candidate is safe and effective, without the additional appropriations from Congress (10 LSLR 16, 8/5/16).
Fauci said he supports the idea of a public health emergency fund, which Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said she would establish if elected (10 LSLR 18, 9/16/16).
“The Congress has yet to appropriate any of the money that President Obama asked for,” Fauci told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 24. “So the idea of having a fund that’s available for rapid access for emergency situations in public health I think is an excellent idea.”
The Zika virus has been declared a global public health emergency by the World Health Organization and has caused alarm due to a link between the Zika virus and serious birth defects.
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Burwell's letter authorizing the $34 million transfer in August is available at http://src.bna.com/hFg.
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