Combating Zika

Congressman Gus Bilirakis
|
Posted: Jun 01, 2016 12:45 PM
Combating Zika

Summer is here.

This means warmer, muggier months, especially in the Sunshine State. It means fun at the beach, swimming, grilling, and enjoying the outdoors. But it also means dealing with pesky mosquitos.

This year in particular, these annoying bugs are a major concern. This year, we are faced with the Zika virus.

Zika, in part, is still a mystery we’re gradually learning about. We’re gathering details about where this comes from, how it’s dangerous, and what we can do to prevent an outbreak.

My district in Florida has seen at least 4 confirmed cases in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. The Florida Department of Health has confirmed cases involving residents from 14 different counties, and five cases involving pregnant women.

After meeting with Governor Scott and others in Florida’s congressional delegation this month, I am confident we will continue working together to proactively protect our communities. We know this virus has the potential to be a real public health threat, and we’re dedicated to staying ahead of an outbreak. Your safety is our top priority.

The President called on Congress to provide emergency funding to fight Zika. We responded with not only funding, but a responsible plan to designate these funds and use taxpayer dollars responsibly and effectively. We must ensure that funds are being used efficiently to keep individuals safe and to prevent the spread of Zika.

I’m working with my colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee and experts across the nation to determine ways to address this virus. With their input, we in Congress worked on important legislation.

I discussed the virus with witnesses from FDA, NIH, CDC, and HHS during a hearing this March and co-sponsored The Adding Zika Virus to the FDA Priority Review Voucher Program Act, which has since become law. This bill allows developers of a vaccine or treatment for a qualifying tropical disease to receive a voucher for FDA priority review for a second product, and will help incentivize vaccine development against Zika.

Last month, the House passed legislation to bring about more necessary reforms and delegate appropriate funding.

The Zika Response Appropriations Act and Zika Vector Control Act will help keep our nation safe by removing barriers to fighting the virus, and funding mosquito control and readiness in states with high mosquito populations.

With this legislation, we provided immediate funding of more than $622 million for HHS agencies, State Department, and USAID agencies to fight and prevent the spread of Zika. We required the agencies to submit spending plans and notify Congress before funds are obligated, holding agencies accountable for the spending of taxpayer dollars. We cut excessive time and money spent on pesticide permitting, to enable those resources to be spent on shrinking the mosquito population.

Through this legislation, Congress can help prevent a public health crisis rather than wait for a declared emergency. I will continue working to keep those seemingly pesky mosquitos from being much more than just a pest.