Top health officials: Funding delay hurt Zika response

Top health officials: Funding delay hurt Zika response
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Top Obama administration health officials said Monday that Congress’s months-long delay in providing funds hurt their response to the Zika virus.

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They added that their work can now accelerate after Congress finally approved $1.1 billion in funding to fight the virus last week. 

Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell said on a call with reporters that millions of dollars in grants to fight the virus “would be out the door” already if the administration had received money earlier. She added that officials’ time and effort could have been focused on the Zika response itself instead of pushing Congress for funds. 

Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that studies to improve understanding of the virus were delayed because of a lack of funding. 

“We haven't been able to get a running start on some of the critically important studies,” he said. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top disease official at the National Institutes of Health, said last week that work on a Zika vaccine had not been delayed, because his agency shifted funds from other areas amid the congressional inaction. 

He noted that other areas, however, such as research on cancer, heart disease and diabetes, had been hurt because research funds had to be shifted from them toward Zika.

The virus, which is spread primarily by mosquitoes, has hit U.S. territories and Florida this year.

Officials also said Monday that they had some drug manufacturers “walk away” from discussions over Zika research because they could not be certain they would have the needed funding. 

Now that Congress has provided the money, officials said they are able to expand mosquito surveillance and control efforts, as well as move forward with Phase II trials on a vaccine. 

Fauci said that Phase II trials would begin “no later than January and hopefully a little bit earlier.”

To prevent damage from similar congressional funding delays in the future, the administration is calling for the creation of a dedicated fund for public health emergencies, an idea that Republicans in Congress are also interested in.