Buchanan Cosponsors Bill To Combat Zika Outbreak
"Congress Needs to Act Now"
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-FL, today cosponsored legislation to allow unspent federal funds to be transferred to the fight against the Zika virus.
The Zika Response and Safety Act (H.R. 4446) would allow government agencies to use over a billion dollars already appropriated by Congress for the Ebola response to contain the emerging threat posed by the Zika virus.
The virus is linked to the development of abnormally small heads in newborns – a birth defect called microcephaly – as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a severe and progressive neurological disorder.
“Pregnant women and their newborns are particularly vulnerable and need our help,” Buchanan said. “Congress needs to act now before the summer months arrive and the mosquito-borne virus becomes a burgeoning health crisis in Florida and other southern states.”
As of Monday the Florida Department of Health reported 16 Zika cases across seven counties. At least 50 people in the United States have been infected by the virus according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Buchanan’s announcement comes hours after the CDC declared that its emergency operations center has been put on a “Level 1” status – its highest level of activation – as a result of the Zika outbreak. The CDC has only put its operations center at Level 1 three times in the past: during the Ebola outbreak in 2014; during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009; and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
According to a September 2015 International Ebola Response and Preparedness Inspector General report, there is approximately $1.4 billion previously approved by Congress to fight the Ebola epidemic yet to be disbursed. The Zika Response and Safety Act will give federal agencies the flexibility to use these funds for Zika virus response and preparedness or fighting Ebola at their discretion.
On Monday Buchanan was one of the first in Congress to back using emergency federal funding to fight the virus. Buchanan said Congress should review the matter with an eye toward quick action to expand mosquito control programs and speed development of a vaccine.
People with Zika virus disease usually have a mild fever, skin rash and conjunctivitis, according to the World Health Organization. Zika has been linked to thousands of infants born in Brazil with microcephaly.