Politics

HHS to Transfer Funds to Help Fight Zika Virus

Plan would avoid delays in developing vaccine

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell testifies during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing in February on her department's fiscal 2017 budget request. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell told congressional leaders Thursday she will use her authority to transfer $34 million in funds within National Institute of Health to help fight the Zika virus.

[Republicans Shocked White House Won't Bite on Zika Funding]

She also told Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate she plans to move $47 million to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority  to prevent delays in developing a vaccine to fight the virus.

“The failure to pass a Zika emergency supplemental has forced the administration to choose between delaying critical vaccine development work and raiding other worthy government programs to temporarily avoid these delays,” Burwell wrote in a letter.

[Senate Democrats Block $1.1 Billion to Fight Zika]

Burwell highlighted Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s announcement July 29 of cases of local transmission of Zika in his state.

Since then Florida has announced 22 cases of local transmission. There are more than 7,300 cases of the Zika virus infection in the U.S., including 972 pregnant women with any laboratory evidence of the virus and 15 babies born with Zika-related birth defects.

Congress and the White House have been pointing fingers for who is to blame for the lack of funding to help fight the virus.

Burwell’s letter came shortly after House Democrats called on Republicans to return from recess to take action on Zika funding and a host of other issues they had been pressing before Congress recessed for the summer.

White House and public health officials have come close to demanding the House and Senate interrupt a seven-week recess and return to Washington to give federal agencies up to $1.9 billion to counter the mosquito-borne virus.

The administration has re-purposed $374 million for Zika response and preparedness. It has $222 million obligated through early August and remaining funds are committed to fighting the virus.

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