While U.S. lawmakers are out on summer vacation, the urgency to develop an effective Zika vaccine remains. And so HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell has signed off on an $81 million fund allocation for federal agencies to continue research, though officials are stressing the amount is far shy of what is really needed.
In a letter to U.S. House of Representatives minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Burwell said $34 million would go to the NIH while BARDA would get $47 million “in order to ensure that neither is forced to delay their Zika vaccine work as the fiscal year closes.”
The NIAID, which has entered the clinic with a DNA-based Zika vaccine candidate, will use its money to prepare for a move into Phase II. At a press briefing, director Anthony Fauci said that Phase I is expected to wrap up at the end of this year, but that the NIAID needs nearly $200 million more for its work, according to Reuters. Burwell said NIH has three more candidates under development, but no resources to support them.
BARDA’s tranche will allow the agency to enter into contracts with private partners, but that agency will need another $342 million next year, Burwell said.
The move comes as local transmission has been documented in Florida and during the same week that the Obama administration officials declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico, which has reported 10,690 Zika cases, according to Reuters.
In July, Congress left for a 7-week break without passing a Zika funding bill just as the spread further threatened areas in the U.S. In her letter, Burwell said “the lack of a clean, bipartisan Zika funding bill has left me no choice but to move forward with this action at this time."
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