— -- Federal health officials have been forced to take $81 million in funds from various government programs, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Administration for Children and Families, in order to avoid delaying research on Zika vaccines, according to a letter from U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell.
Burwell has pledged the money to help keep research for a potential vaccine for the Zika virus on schedule, according to a letter to members of Congress.
Burwell announced that $34 million will be transferred within the National Institutes of Health and another $47 million will be given to Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) so that neither has to delay research into Zika vaccines.
The funds allocated for the NIH will come "exclusively from other NIH accounts," including research into health issues like diabetes and cancer to keep that trial on schedule.
"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.
The BARDA funds are being transferred from HHS agencies such as the Administration for Children and Families as well as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The National Institutes of Health launched a trial for a possible Zika vaccine earlier this month. Burwell wrote that re-purposing funds will mean removing needed resources from other health programs and that additional funds are needed to get other potential Zika vaccines into testing.
“However, there are no additional resources for the other three lead vaccine candidates that NIH is working to develop,” Burwell said in the letter. “NIH currently lacks sufficient funds to support diagnostics, and other activities critical to the Zika research response.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said recently that researchers will need at least $33 million to start phase II of the Zika vaccine clinical trial on time.
President Obama has requested $1.9 billion in Zika funding, but Congress has yet to approve anything near that amount. The Senate passed a $1.1 billion deal in June, but the House’s approval of its own $1.1 billion in funding was filibustered by Democrats, who argued that they were left out of negotiations on the bill, and that the measure would take funds away from other health programs and bar any availability of funds for birth control.
Burwell said reappropriating the funds was a short-term solution, noting that "with the actions described above, we have exhausted our ability to even provide short-term financing to help fight Zika."
She pointed out that when Congress returns from its summer recess, it will have “less than one month to provide resources to avoid a scenario where agencies on the front lines of the Zika response have to severely curtail many of their critical efforts.”
At least 1,825 people in the continental U.S. and and additional 5,548 people in U.S. territories have been diagnosed with the Zika virus, according to health authorities. In Miami, the first-ever outbreak of locally transmitted virus via mosquitoes has infected 22 people. In Puerto Rico, local transmission has infected thousands.
The NIH has asked for $196 million in additional resources for the 2017 fiscal year and BARDA estimates it will need $342 million in additional funding next year to continue to fight Zika.