Zika funds are running out, HHS Secretary Burwell tells Congress

Health and Humans Services head Sylvia Burwell pressed for urgent action as her department’s dwindling resources will make it harder to help states with mosquito control and for the National Institutes of Health to conduct trials of Zika vaccines.
By Bill Siwicki
03:51 PM
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Zika HHS

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said there is an urgent need for Congress to allocate  more resources so HHS can help contain Zika from spreading.

While congressional Democrats and Republicans squabble over who is to blame for a lack of funding to combat the Zika virus, President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell now is notifying Congress that administration’s funds to fight Zika soon will run out, and that there is an “urgent need” for Congress to act.

Burwell yesterday sent a letter to congressional Republicans highlighting a number of Zika responses that will be weakened if Congress does not act quickly to offer new funds. Without new funds, for example, Burwell said there will be delays in the Phase II trials of a Zika vaccine. In this case, she explained that the administration shifted $47 million to the National Institutes of Health so the NIH could test the vaccine, but that those funds will dry up before August ends.

Burwell added that the capacity to give additional funding to states to help with mosquito control, which is the main way the virus spreads, will be greatly limited.

In a letter to President Obama last week, Republican Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz insisted that the administration is sitting on unspent millions in funds shifted to fight the Zika virus. “We are concerned that you and your Administration are attempting to give a false impression and shift the blame for failed leadership in combating the Zika virus,” the senators wrote.

However, Secretary Burwell said most of those funds have indeed been spent, and that what remains soon will be used in various efforts to fight the virus.

Further, Burwell said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has to date spent $143 million of the $222 million it was given to fight the Zika virus. Burwell added that the rest of those funds will have been used by September 30, the end of the government’s fiscal year.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com


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