“The Department is committed to using scarce federal dollars aggressively and prudently, especially in light of Congress’s inaction to provide any additional resources and the uncertainty around whether Congress will provide resources in the future,” Burwell said in the letter.
The letter comes days after the CDC announced a Zika outbreak in Miami, prompting a travel warning advising pregnant women and their partners to avoid a small area of the city where 15 Zika cases have been identified. Burwell was writing in response to a request for a Zika spending update from Democrats on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.
Before this week, the CDC had spent $123 million of the $222 million made available in the spending transfer. Yesterday, the agency announced an additional $16 million in awards for state programs, leaving just $83 million to last until Congress approves additional funds.
Without additional funds NIH, which received $47 million, may have to delay the second phase of clinical trials on a DNA-based vaccine for the virus. The agency has already spent the majority of their funds and could exhaust any remaining money by the end of the month, Burwell said.
“A delay in this stage of development will delay when a safe and effective Zika vaccine is available to the American public,” she wrote. “In addition, research and development of other vaccine candidates, diagnostics, therapeutics and vector control technologies may be constrained.”
Congress was unable to reach an agreement to pass a $1.1 billion spending bill that would help fight the spread of Zika before the six week recess began in July. Negotiations over a bipartisan solution failed in June and Senate Democrats repeatedly blocked a GOP-written package over politically motivated language, including provisions that would deny Zika-related funds from being sent to Planned Parenthood and loosen environmental regulations on pesticides.
But even some Republicans are urging speedy action. On Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) joined Democrats in calling for Congress to return to vote on a Zika bill in the wake of the Miami outbreak
“A week ago, before the cases were announced, I had asked President Obama to take $300 million that’s disposable, that he has under his control,” Rubio said at a Tuesday event in Clearwater, Fla. “I’m prepared to go back on a moment’s notice and vote on this and get it done quickly given the state of affairs now.”