Congress managed once again to do nothing when something was necessary, this time with a funding bill to deal with the Zika virus. The executive branch, however, does not have the luxury of inaction, especially with a lack of resources. And once Congress returns, the combination of a chronically broken appropriations process and the November elections makes it nearly certain that instead of a new budget there will be a continuing resolution. Such a resolution would continue spending at the prior year’s levels, which typically means new proposals like Zika funding are shut out.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been active in the vacuum of Congressional leadership. The FDA has taken steps on protecting the blood supply, supporting potential diagnostic tests, dealing with potential Zika-related fraudulent devices and addressing the mosquitoes that carry the virus. But as of this writing there are no FDA-approved diagnostic tests, vaccines or treatments in the advanced stages of development.
The CDC has been active in developing resources for state and local health agencies, as well as various stakeholders. They are assisting the Utah Department of Health in a case of virus transmission, and may assist other states as the number of U.S. cases grows. The NIAID has been active in researching the virus since before the current outbreak, but started expanding that work in the beginning of 2016.
However, without additional resources (using Ebola funds that have not yet been spent could be counterproductive), the impact of this work will be necessarily limited. With almost 800 pregnant women with Zika in the United States, perhaps the microcephaly associated with Zika births will motivate Congressional action. But I’m not optimistic.