Donovan: Companies Researching Zika Vaccine Threaten to Pull Out
Staten Island, NY—July 19, 2016….Congressman Dan Donovan (NY-11), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, today blasted partisan games for jeopardizing development of a vaccine for the Zika Virus. At a Zika briefing Donovan held last week, officials from the Department of Health and Human Services warned that three companies researching a Zika vaccine threatened to halt development because of funding uncertainty.
Congressman Donovan said, “The Zika epidemic is about to shift from a natural crisis to a man-made catastrophe. Three vaccine research companies have already threatened to halt their efforts. It’s shameful to jeopardize the solution to a public health crisis over partisan bickering. Frankly, expecting mothers at risk of contracting the Zika Virus don’t care if it’s an election year.”
Earlier this year, while Congress debated a broader Zika funding package, the Obama Administration redirected $589 million from the Ebola response account to address the Zika outbreak. In particular, the Administration provided $85 million to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA) to fund vaccine development. Still, the Administration has $2 billion in unused Ebola funds that it has not redirected to the Zika crisis. The Department of Health and Human Services reported during last week’s briefing with Donovan that BARDA will exhaust its funding this month.
It’s because of this funding uncertainty that three pharmaceutical companies have threatened to halt the progress they’ve made thus far. BARDA has a portfolio of vaccine candidates but cannot support any of them through clinical studies without additional funding. The re-programmed Ebola funds only take the vaccine candidates to the point of being ready for clinical studies. Without further funding, clinical trials cannot begin and BARDA-sponsored vaccine development will halt.
Should funding run out and work stop later this month, BARDA estimates that it will take three to six months to resume work on viable candidates. This is a major setback in efforts to control a growing outbreak.
In June, the House of Representatives passed legislation to fund Zika research and response at the previously agreed-upon $1.1 billion level. Hours before the Senate began a six week recess, Senate Democrats blocked consideration of the bill. The Obama Administration has an additional $2 billion in available Ebola funds that it could redirect to combat Zika, but it has not done so.
Congressman Donovan concluded, “As partisan squabbles derail measures to protect the American public, the Obama Administration should immediately reallocate some Ebola funds to ensure vaccine development is not delayed.”
To date, there are more than 1,100 travel-associated cases of Zika in the United States and more than 300 cases of pregnant women in the United States diagnosed with Zika. Last week in Texas, a mother gave birth to a child with Zika-related birth defects. More than 40 million people travel to the United States from Zika-affected countries each year.