Last week, the President signed into law an act of spending that includes $1.1 billion allocated for Zika virus-related efforts through the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30, 2017). As I have written about previously, this funding has traveled a long and sinuous road through Congress since February, when the President originally requested $1.9 billion in emergency aid for Zika.
But now that it’s finally official, here’s a look at what it contains. This figure shows a breakdown of how the $1,108,094,000 in Zika funding is divvied up.
Most relevant to the scientific community is the $933 million allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Of this, $152 million is designated for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) “for research on the virology, natural history, and pathogenesis of the Zika virus infection and preclinical and clinical development of vaccines and other medical countermeasures for the Zika virus and other vector-borne diseases, domestically and internationally,” as stated in the bill.
This is good news for the many scientists who have initiated research projects in response to the emerging concerns relating to Zika, and hope to continue that work. Researchers are currently digging for answers to questions such as how long the virus can persist in the infected person, what mechanisms underlie the range of symptoms (or lack thereof) that can result from infection and how the course of Zika virus infection might be affected by co-infections from other Flaviviruses such as the dengue virus.
This is also good news for researchers interested in developing a vaccine against Zika. Additional support for a Zika virus vaccine is provided in the $387 million designated to the NIH Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund.
In order for a new vaccine to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration for public use, it must first pass through three costly and time-consuming phases of clinical trials. NIAID director Anthony Fauci explained in a recent interview that there are already two Zika DNA vaccine candidates that are in the first phase of these trials (NCT01099852 and NCT02840487), and several others that are a step behind in the preclinical stages of testing. Without this funding, plans to move trials with these vaccine candidates into the next phase by January would have been stalled. Since the Brazilian summer mosquito season is at its peak in January, this timing is critical.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also receives a $394 million slice of this pie, which the bill states will be used “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to Zika virus, health conditions related to such virus, and other vector-borne diseases, domestically and internationally”. This will be a boon to places like Florida, where mosquito control efforts have strained local budgets; and Puerto Rico, where the first major outbreak of Zika infections this year is estimated to have affected at least a few thousand pregnant women who will give birth in the coming months.
Also included in this funding is nearly $20 million for the Department of State that will support foreign and domestic response efforts, and over $155 million in foreign aid for ‘Bilateral Economic Assistance’ and ‘International Assistance Programs’ via the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). This money will fund coordinated efforts with groups such as the World Health Organization (WHO), which has requested $122 million this year from donor countries to implement a strategic response to Zika. So far, it has received only $21.3 million, about half of which has already come from USAID.