Zika Money Could Take Months to Get to States

by | October 5, 2016

By Liz Freeman

Delays in getting $1.1 billion to combat Zika meant some drug companies gave up working with the federal government on developing vaccines and states won't see their share of money until early 2017, a health panel said Monday.

Congress last week approved $1.1 billion for fighting Zika, seven months later and $800 million less than when funding was first sought, which meant federal health agencies had to pull money from other programs for Ebola, malaria, tuberculosis and research to address Zika, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a media call Monday.

Fauci and Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Sylvia Burwell, secretary of Health and Human Services, outlined in broad strokes how the $1.1 billion will be used.

The money is earmarked for vaccine development, faster diagnostic test results, and studies on how the mosquito-based virus can lead to severe neurological problems in infants and for long-term monitoring. Zika can also be transmitted through bites from infected mosquitoes and by sexual contact.

States won't see their share of the federal money until sometime in early 2017, Frieden said.

The health officials didn't say how much money will be coming to Florida, which has been ground zero for the nation's first locally transmitted Zika cases, either through infected mosquitoes or sexual contact.

Florida earlier received $8 million in direct Zika funding and $27 million in public emergency funding to respond to the Zika outbreak, Burwell said. The CDC sent a team to Florida to help with surveillance and to help in laboratories, she said.

Gov. Rick Scott last week sent a "wish list" to the federal government seeking 10,000 more Zika prevention kits, accelerated diagnostic testing development and $25 million to match what the state has earmarked for Zika research. All told, Florida has spent $61.2 million to fight Zika.

Neither the governor's office nor the Florida Department of Health had received a response from the federal government as of Monday, the governor's office said.

Florida has 133 nontravel-related Zika infections in Miami-Dade, with nine new nontravel-related cases reported Monday. Six of the nontravel-related cases are in Miami Beach, and three are elsewhere in Miami-Dade, according to the state DOH daily update. The three new Miami-Dade cases are being investigated for where exposure occurred.

Statewide there are 716 travel-related infections. There are more than 25,600 cases of Zika in the U.S. and its territories, according to HHS; about 3,600 of those cases are in the U.S.

Freiden said the CDC is receiving $394 million of the money for Zika but will use $44 million to replenish funding that was borrowed from other programs for the Zika response. Some of the funding will be used for developing centers of excellence at universities on Zika and other vector-borne diseases, he said. The details for universities that want to apply will go out at the end of the month, he said.

"We learn more about Zika every day, and the more we learn, the more concerned we become," he said.

Vaccine development is underway across several federal agencies and with some outside groups, but it's also important to have manufacturers lined up when clinical trials are wrapping up, said Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Some manufacturers walked away from us," she said, declining to name the companies. "I'm not at liberty to say." which ones

The National Institutes of Health has five vaccine candidates in the works on its own or in conjunction with outside research groups, and 80 patients are enrolled in one study that's the furthest along, Fauci said.

"Over the weekend we enrolled the 80th patient," Fauci said. "This trial is right on target."

The second phase of the vaccine trial should get underway with 2,400 to people in January, he said. It's possible some patients can be enrolled from Miami-Dade, he said

The agency will use $152 million of the federal money for vaccine development. The five potential vaccines that NIH is working are in various stages of study.

(c)2016 the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.)