Zika is here. But Congress is gone.
Lawmakers adjourned this week for a seven-week summer recess without passing additional money to fight the Zika virus. Now, federal public-health officials are weighing how to stop the spread of infections with no new money coming down the pipeline—and with further budget battles near-guaranteed in the fall. “We will do the best we can to protect Americans,” said Tom Frieden, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director. But “there are projects that will not happen because the funding isn’t available.”
The Obama administration first sent Congress a funding request for Zika in February, for about $1.9 billion. The virus emerged last year in Brazil, and quickly spread throughout the Americas. Because it was new to the Western Hemisphere, health officials in the United States and elsewhere weren’t prepared for it. The World Health Organization deemed it an international emergency, and the Obama administration began planning its response: creating a vaccine, improving diagnostic tools, and organizing rapid-response teams to deal with any potential “clusters” in the United States, among many other steps. In the months that followed, researchers established a causal link between the virus and the birth defect microcephaly, where childrens’ brains develop abnormally, and are now close to saying definitively that the virus also causes the immune disorder Guillain-Barré. They also learned the virus can be transmitted sexually.