Congress returned from recess on Tuesday, and now Democrats in the House of Representatives are calling on their counterparts in the GOP to push through funding to combat the spread of Zika.
Congress has been gridlocked on Zika funding for months, though the number of people in U.S. states and territories with the virus continues to grow. As of August 31, there were more than 2,700 cases of Zika identified in U.S. states and more than 14,000 in its territories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pregnant women are especially vulnerable as the virus may cause microcephaly and other birth defects in infected newborns.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hosted a press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday to urge her Republican colleagues to break the gridlock and move funding proposals forward. One major stumbling block for the Democrats has been additions to the bill that would strip Planned Parenthood of its ability to offer contraceptives to prevent the virus from spreading through sexual transmission, according to The New York Times.
“To have a public health emergency that takes its biggest toll on children challenges our conscience in a very different way,” Pelosi said. “The urgency is here, we must act upon it, and Congress must act.”
Pelosi was joined at the press briefing by several Democratic leaders, including Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.); Rep. Rose DeLauro (D-Conn.); Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.); and Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.).
The need for funding has grown with the spread of Zika in Florida, as the southern part of the state is the hardest hit region in the continental U.S. Wilson said she has spent weeks communicating with CDC teams on the ground in Miami that are working to contain the virus.
“So many questions, so many theories. We cannot afford to delay much-needed scientific research, but that requires adequate resources from this Congress,” she said.
The Democrats also noted that researchers working to develop a vaccine have had to siphon funds from other areas to continue their work, as FierceHealthcare previously reported. The Department of Health and Human Services reallocated more than $80 million within its subsidiaries to continue that work.
In the interim, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority entered into a $300 million deal with a Japanese pharmaceutical company to develop a new vaccine, and HHS announced Wednesday that is has awarded an $8.2 million contract to a Massachusetts firm to develop an mRNA-type vaccine.