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Burwell In Orlando: Delaying Zika Funding Could Delay Vaccine

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Abe Aboraya/WMFE
The Florida Channel
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speak after touring a mosquito control building in Orlando.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Congress’ failure to fully fund the fight against Zika could slow down development of a vaccine.

Burwell said Florida has been pledged $5.6 million in federal dollars to fight Zika, and another $27 million in public health emergency funding is available to Florida, if Rick Scott wants to use it for Zika.

But without an authorization from Congress, that may be the end of it. The Obama administration has asked for $1.9 billion dollars to combat Zika, but that request went nowhere before Congress went on summer break. Burwell said the uncertainty in federal funding for Zika is causing the private industry to slow down development of a vaccine.

“We have moved all the money we can at this point, in terms of moving our money around to try and cover,” Burwell said, speaking to reporters at Orange County’s mosquito control headquarters. “We’re at a point when we need the resources. And very clearly, we will run out of money in our vaccine efforts.”

Burwell and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murty toured Orange County’s mosquito control headquarters. From June 1 to July 21, Orange County conducted more than 7,500 home visits looking for the mosquitoes that can spread Zika. That includes spraying and trapping in the neighborhoods around 300 cases where Zika was suspected, but test results weren’t back. Orange County treats those cases as Zika until proven otherwise; mosquito control workers drain water, look for larvae, trap mosquitoes and send them to a lab to check for Zika.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs was at the press conference. When asked, she said the county is thinking about how tourists might react to a potential Zika outbreak.

Florida is investigating two cases of Zika virus that may have been acquired locally in South Florida. Jacobs said the theme parks are already vigilant in fighting mosquitoes because they are a nuisance.

“Our hotels and our theme parks are extremely vigilant and have been and they have increased that vigilance when it comes to the mosquito population,” Jacobs said. “What do people think? We’ll have to work on making sure people have the facts. But I think the theme parks are probably the safest place on the planet when it comes to mosquitoes.”

Orange County has had 37 cases of Zika virus, all caught while traveling. The US Surgeon General was in Orlando to tour Orange County’s mosquito control facilities.

Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.