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  • Washington Highlights

    House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Examines Response to Zika Virus

    Tannaz Rasouli, Sr. Director, Public Policy & Strategic Outreach

    The House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee March 2 held a hearing to discuss the federal government’s response to the Zika virus.

    In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chair Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) expressed his concerns with the administration’s request for Congress to provide emergency supplemental funding to combat the Zika virus [see Washington Highlights, Feb. 26]. He added that this request “demonstrates a reactionary posture towards public health preparedness rather than a strategic one.”

    Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) expressed her concerns about the public health infrastructure and local health departments across the country. She added that Ebola served as a “wake up call” to prepare health departments to respond to emerging infectious diseases, such as the Zika virus. To address the Zika virus, Rep. Castor said that it “requires a multidimensional response including accelerating the research, development, and procurement of vaccines and diagnostics” as well as “providing emergency assistance to states.”

    National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci, M.D., highlighted the research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), noting that the NIAID is “accelerating efforts to develop improved diagnostics and candidate therapies” and “prioritizing the development of Zika virus vaccines.” Dr. Fauci reiterated that the proposed emergency supplemental funding would “support development of vaccines to prevent Zika virus infections.”

    In her testimony, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine Director Jeanne Sheffield, M.D., discussed the effects of the Zika virus in pregnant women, as well as how experts and researchers are responding to the virus. She noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, which she helped identify, recommend “all pregnant women or women considering pregnancy postpone travel to areas of ongoing Zika virus transmission.”

    CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., discussed the urgency needed in approving the emergency supplemental funds for Zika virus and why the CDC could not shift funds from emergency funding appropriated in fiscal year (FY) 2016 for Ebola. He noted that “Ebola is not over,” and the Ebola supplemental funding also “directed the CDC to work over a five-year period to strengthen the systems around the world that could find, stop and prevent other health threats, such as Zika.”