The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has shifted $81 million in funds from other projects to continue work on developing vaccines to fight Zika in the absence of any funding from U.S. lawmakers.
In a letter addressed to Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat and minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said she was allocating $34 million in funding to the National Institutes of Health and $47 million to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to work on Zika vaccines.
Burwell said the funding was intended to keep Zika vaccine research going despite the lack of funding from U.S. lawmakers, who left for summer recess before allocating any funding to Zika research and preparedness.
The new bolus of funds is on top of the $589 million in repurposed funds previously allocated for Ebola efforts. HHS has said these funds will run out at the end of August.
At a press briefing in Washington, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he needs $33 million to prepare to move the first potential Zika vaccine to the second phase of human clinical trials. The first phase of that testing is expected to end in late November or December.
Fauci said the health secretary has the authority to transfer 1 percent of NIH's $33 billion budget per year from one Institute to the other. He said the director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, will decide which existing programs the funds will be drawn from.
"He will probably do it on a prorated basis across the Institutes," he said.
Fauci said the budget transfer will not fill the longer-term NIH funding needs to fight the virus and to develop a second or third potential vaccine candidate. Drugs frequently fail to realize the promise they show in early trials.
"We still need about $196 million more," he said.
Fauci said the health secretary's action was essentially one of desperation given the failure of Congress to authorize additional funding.
Taking money from other research programs "is extremely damaging to the biomedical research enterprise," he said. "We're taking money away from cancer, diabetes, all those things."