The CDC and the Obama administration would really, really like Congress to allot some money to fight the Zika virus. Right now. Immediately. Without any further political grandstanding or dicking around.
In February, the New York Times explains, Obama asked for $1.8 billion in emergency funds to fight the virus, which is already being transmitted locally in Puerto Rico. However, Congress—which is of course Republican-controlled—demurred, insisting that the White House rob Peter to pay Paul and use funds that’d been earmarked for Ebola.
Finally, the administration announced they’d move $510 million, plus another $79 million from elsewhere in various budgets, to the fight. Even so, “our $1.9 billion request remains our $1.9 billion request,” said Office of Management and Budget director Shaun Donovan.
And now NBC News reports that in a press conference at the White House yesterday, CDC principal deputy director Dr. Anne Schuchat and National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases head Dr. Tony Fauci reiterated that call for more money, stressing that they are very, very concerned about Zika and they would very, very much like more money to throw at this threat.
“Most of what we’ve learned is not reassuring,” said Schuchat, who added, “Everything we know about this virus seems to be scarier than we initially thought.” Great. There’s also a number of worrisome unknowns:
What’s not known, Schuchat says, is how many women who are pregnant and who get infected will go on to have babies with a birth defect. There are almost certainly going to be birth defects that don’t show up for years, experts say, and studies will be needed to find out what they are and how common they are.
The virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, whose habitat covers a huge swath of the southern half of the country, sometimes reaching as far north as New York and San Francisco.
Fauci was somewhat reassuring in a previous interview with The Hill, noting that there hasn’t been a widespread outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue fever, for instance. But this isn’t something to play around with—he added that, “Zika seems to continue to surprise us a bit.” And regardless, they aren’t fucking around with that request for funding: “When the president asked for $1.9 billion, we needed $1.9 billion,” he made clear in the press conference yesterday. “While we absolutely hope we don’t see widespread local transmission in the continental U.S., we need the states to be ready for that,” said Schuchat, according to the New York Times.
Unfortunately, judging from this Washington Post report, there’s a pretty good chance any additional Zika funding could get caught up in the traditionally contentious debate over the annual budget, and God knows when that’ll get resolved. Congress better get off its ass, lest they look up one day to find their offices swarmed with panicky pregnant women who want answers, goddammit.
Image via AP.