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Thursday, 08 September 2016 17:56

Congress Fails Again on Zika

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 Gas slowly hissing from a tank of liquid nitrogen, used to keep cells frozen Gas slowly hissing from a tank of liquid nitrogen, used to keep cells frozen

Congress has again failed to provide needed money for Zika virus research. It’s the second time this year that this important research agenda has been compromised by politics.

Just before adjourning for the summer, coincident with the first local spread of Zika virus in Florida, Congress did not pass legislation to provide funds for research on the virus. As I discussed in Zika Dollars, former NIH Director Harold Varmus said that the main reasons were the large size of the request ($1.9 billion), and the inclusion of other measures that were not acceptable (it was not a "clean bill").

After returning from summer recess, Congress considered another proposal to provide money for Zika virus—this one at $1.1 billion. Again the bill was not passed. This time, the problem was that the bill would not allow Planned Parenthood to receive money to provide condoms for prevention of sexual transmission of the virus.

Zika virus is falling prey to the nasty game of American politics—which is a shame, because the virus is clearly dangerous to the developing fetus. The CDC has spent most of the $222 million it previously received for work on Zika, and NIAID head Tony Fauci has said that his institute’s efforts to develop a Zika vaccine will soon run out of money (which he had previously appropriated from programs on Ebola virus).

Perhaps Congress does not feel that Zika virus is an urgent issue. After all, there have been few local transmissions of the virus, restricted to Miami. It’s likely that there will never be massive spread of Zika virus within the continental US, but that should not stop us from supporting work on vaccines. It’s likely that a Zika virus vaccine will prove essential for pregnant women who want to travel to areas where the virus is endemic. It’s the same situation for yellow fever: US residents don't acquire this disease at home, but if they wish to travel to areas of the world where the virus is present, a vaccine is recommended. Before my two recent trips to Brazil, I received the yellow fever virus vaccine.

Thinking beyond a travel-related Zika virus vaccine, why can’t we provide the results of our research on vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, and fundamental biology to other countries who have the virus but can’t afford to work on it? As I wrote elsewhere, Zika virus is clearly a threat to other parts of the globe, and by refusing to fund research on this virus, Congress is sending the message that it doesn’t care about the health problems of others.

Last modified on Friday, 09 September 2016 08:32
Vincent Racaniello

Vincent Racaniello is a virologist at Columbia University and science communicator. He is using Zika Diaries to communicate the personal and behind the scenes experiences of his laboratory as it moves from working on poliovirus (for 35 years) to Zika virus.

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