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Despite new Zika funds, states might not get any for months

A Dallas County mosquito lab staffer sorts mosquitoes collected in February near the location of a confirmed Zika infection. (LM Otero/AP)

Newly approved Zika funding isn't likely to reach states and localities for several more months because of the federal goverment's budgeting process, health officials said Monday.

After months of partisan feuding, Congress last week approved a budget bill that includes $1.1 billion to fight the Zika crisis. That's just over half the total emergency money that President Obama requested in February. Although local and state health officials have been eagerly awaiting assistance, funds aren't likely to be flowing right away.

U.S. health officials are itching to use Zika funds they've begged for all year

Some $933 million is for efforts to control Zika’s spread in the United States. It will support mosquito control and surveillance, vaccine development and studies to understand the virus’s impact on fetuses, children and adults.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said a number of projects, including one led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to follow up and study Zika's long-term impact on babies born to infected mothers, could not get started because of the funding delay. "That money would be out the door" had Congress passed the request earlier, she said.

In some instances, manufacturers who were interested in vaccine development "walked away from negotiations with us because they couldn't be sure the money would be there," said Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, whose office oversees another HHS agency working on research related to vaccine development and commercialization of diagnostic tests.

That agency, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, is getting $245 million of the newly approved funds. Lurie declined to identify any of the companies but said "some of them we're hoping to get back."

Scientists announce important Zika milestone for vaccine development

The CDC will receive $394 million, and the agency is seeking to award $50 million in grants for collaborations between universities and public health organizations. The goal is for these regional centers to develop better tools to prevent and respond to emerging vector-borne disease threats such as Zika, a mosquito-borne virus.

Depending on need, much of the CDC funding is expected to go to states and localities by December. "In terms of the time frame, it will be as fast as government procurement allows," CDC Director Tom Frieden said. "Most of the money will come ... in the coming couple of months."

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is getting $152 million, most of which will be used for Zika vaccine development. At least five vaccine candidates are already under development by NIH or in collaboration with other agencies.

Over the weekend, researchers were able to complete enrollment of a small group of patients to continue the first phase of a clinical trial on one vaccine candidate, NIAID Director Anthony Fauci said. If all goes as planned, the additional funds will allow the trial to proceed seamlessly to the next phase, set to begin by January, he said.

But that vaccine development has come with a cost. Funds were shifted from other HHS research areas, including Ebola, malaria, tuberculosis, cancer, heart disease, substance abuse and mental health. None of that money is getting returned.

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