The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Friday said that immediate funding is needed for vaccine development and aggressive mosquito control in the U.S. to blunt the effects of the Zika virus.
“What could happen is ... we'll have to delay the vaccine,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a forum on Zika sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center. “So we haven't delayed anything up to now, but if we don't get money soon, it's going to have a ripple effect down the pike.”
Also Friday, health officials in Florida said they are investigating four cases of the virus that were highly likely to have been transmitted by local mosquitoes. Fauci said this did not surprise him.
“I'm almost certain that we're going to see more,” he said. “The critical question is how to respond to that.”
The best way would be strong efforts to control the population of the particularly pesky mosquito known to carry Zika. This has worked in campaigns to limit the effects of dengue fever and chikungunya, which are spread by the same mosquito. Efforts should include educational campaigns showing people how to avoid being bitten as well as information about sexual transmission of the disease, he said.
Fauci said he would suggest creating a global public health reserve fund that would have abilities similar to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond to health emergencies.
Congress adjourned for its summer break without approving funding to fight the mosquito-borne disease that has been shown to cause severe birth defects in the children of pregnant women who are infected.
Despite President Barack Obama's request for $1.9 billion, several Republicans said enough money is currently available to use the regular appropriations process. Some Republicans in the Senate proposed a $1.1 billion package but it did not receive a vote.
Leaders of the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said they took money from other accounts to deal with Zika. Those areas need to be paid back and more money for Zika is needed immediately, Fauci said.
Fauci said he couldn't comment on what Congress should do when members return in September, but said his efforts to mount a proactive “full-court press” against Zika would soon suffer without more funding.
“I am preciously close to the point where I run out of money and things are going to start slowing,” he said.
Phase I human trials for a possible vaccine are set to being early next month and health officials need to start now to begin preparing sites for Phase II testing early next year, he said.