It's a move Burwell described as necessary in light of Congress' failure to approve President Barack Obama's $1 billion request to combat Zika. The virus has infected more than 7,300 in the U.S. and its territories as of Aug. 3, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Without diverting funds, she estimated funding both the National Institutes of Health and BARDA would exhaust all its funding for Zika research by the end of the month.
“Reallocating NIH resources is not consistent with a strategy to provide maximum support to the important work that our nation's leading scientists are performing,” Burwell wrote. “But the lack of a clean, bipartisan Zika funding bill has left me no choice but to move forward with this action at this time.”
Calls for Congress to return from a seven-week summer recess and pass a Zika spending bill have grown since the first locally transmitted cases were confirmed in South Florida.
In June, the Senate failed to pass a bill that would have provided $1.1 billion in emergency funding toward Zika after Republicans insisted on a provision that would have prevented funding Planned Parenthood.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Thursday in a briefing hosted by the National Alliance for Health Reform, that the first Zika vaccine candidate will soon undergo the second phase of testing. He said the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases needs another nearly $200 million for a comprehensive response to Zika.
Fauci added that the funding will help continue testing of other vaccine candidates. He also said transferring money from other areas is “extremely damaging to the biomedical research enterprise” and could set back research in other areas.