A mere year ago, Zika virus was an unfamiliar pandemic that was plaguing the countries of South America and Asia. However, just last week the first Zika-related death in the continental United States occurred.
Americans are faced with the very real threat of this potential public health crisis on our own soil. In response to this impending crisis, Congress advanced legislation to provide $1.1 billion in funding for Zika virus preparedness and response efforts, including health care and contraception, vaccine development and distribution, vector control and other methods to prevent transmission in the United States and other countries.
Unfortunately, Senate Democrats and the Obama Administration have repeatedly demonstrated through their actions a complete failure to take the threat of Zika seriously.
For months prior to Senate Democrats voting down their own priority, the Obama Administration stressed the dire threat Zika poses to the United States. The White House came to Congress with hefty and unclear funding requests, urging Congress to act swiftly to avoid the deadly consequences, only to issue a veto threat to $1.1 billion in Zika funds.
Actions speak louder than words. The combined actions of Senate Democrats and the Administration make it difficult to see their actions as anything other than political gamesmanship. The CDC refuses to warn Americans that they should avoid nonessential travel to areas with Zika outbreaks, instead advising enhanced precautions such as “wearing long-sleeved shirts” and “us[ing] insect repellents containing DEET.” The State Department’s ‘Travel Alerts and Warnings’ webpage is devoid of a single reference to Zika virus outbreaks, despite claiming to issue health alerts for events “like an outbreak of H1N1.” FDA has failed to expedite approval of trials examining methods of vector mitigation, despite the lack of effective options for controlling the Aedes aegyptimosquito.
Of the over 3,600 cases of Zika virus identified in the United States, all have resulted from travel outside of the U.S. Addressing this public health crisis requires more than funding. It requires the appropriate agencies to take the necessary steps within their jurisdiction to halt this virus in its tracks. If Americans continue to believe it is safe to travel to countries of Zika outbreak, more will return home with the virus, increasing the risk of further transmission.
Americans rely on the expertise and judgement of the CDC and the State Department in determining whether the benefits of travel to a particular destination outweigh the risks to safety and security. The Administration’s dismissive treatment of Zika sends the message to all Americans that it does not take this threat to public health seriously.
Instead of taking the steps to inform Americans about the risks of Zika and taking precautions to prevent an outbreak, Senate Democrats and the Obama Administration are trying to score political points. House Republicans have signaled their willingness to come to the table to put the well-being of the American people ahead of partisan politics—and now await Democrats and the Obama Administration to pull up a chair.