Amid congressional inaction, Democrats urge 'extraordinary steps' to fight Zika

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Washington, DC, August 10, 2016 | comments

FOX 11 ONLINE (Green Bay, Wisconsin)

Amid congressional inaction, Democrats urge 'extraordinary steps' to fight Zika


(Sinclair Broadcast Group) — Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is urging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure funding continues for the development of a Zika vaccine, with or without the help of Congress.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell recently warned lawmakers that the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research Development Authority are expected to run out of repurposed Ebola funds currently devoted to the research by the end of August, which could lead to a delay.

Nelson and six Democratic House members from Florida sent a letter to Burwell Wednesday lamenting that the House and Senate have not reached an agreement on providing additional resources. Reps. Ted Deutch (FL-22), Gwen Graham (FL-02), Alcee Hastings (FL-20), Patrick Murphy (FL-18), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23), and Frederica Wilson (FL-24) signed the letter.

The White House has sought $1.9 billion in emergency funding, but legislation to appropriate funds has been stalled in Congress, with both parties accusing the other of politicizing the crisis. After 21 locally transmitted cases of the virus were discovered in Florida, Nelson pressed Republicans to reconvene the Senate and House to approve of the money or pass the bill in a pro forma session.

Failing that, Nelson and his colleagues are now recommending HHS move funds from “other vital work” to keep the research going.

Zika is most often transmitted by infected mosquitoes, and it can also be passed on through sex. An infection in a pregnant woman can cause microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects.

“We urge you to do what you can as Secretary to ensure that there is a sustainable funding stream for the development of a Zika vaccine, which is desperately needed to stop the spread of Zika,” the Florida legislators wrote. “Additionally, it would help ensure that children are not born with Zika-related microcephaly or other birth defects.”

They said extraordinary measures are needed because “the Republican Congress has left you no other options.”

Nelson planned to meet with local officials in West Palm Beach Wednesday to discuss efforts to contain the virus.

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