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The yellow fever mosquito, <cite>Aedes aegypti</cite>, is Zika's most important vector.

The yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, is Zika's most important vector.

Marcos Teixeira de Freitas, Creative Commons

Funding shift for Zika helps NIH, but more research money requested

The White House’s decision this week to shift $589 million in unspent Ebola response funding to fighting Zika won’t require cutting any Ebola research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But the Obama administration still is requesting more help from Congress to both fund Zika efforts and replenish money shifted away from Ebola, says Anthony Fauci, the head of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Bethesda, Maryland.

Fauci tells ScienceInsider that $47 million of the shifted funds will go to NIAID to support Zika research. None of that will come from Ebola research at NIAID, which has already spent its roughly $238 million share of Ebola response funding that Congress approved last year, according to Fauci. But he also sounded a cautionary note about the new Zika support. “That’s not enough to last me very long,” Fauci says. “We can start the work, but we can’t finish what we need to do.”

Shaun Donovan, head of the Office of Management and Budget in Washington, D.C., revealed on 6 April that his group had “identified” more than half-a-billion dollars in government funding that could be “redirected” to Zika, calling the step necessary after the Republican-controlled Congress didn’t act on a White House emergency funding request earlier this year. The White House had sought nearly $2 billion to combat Zika virus, which mosquitoes have spread rapidly through Latin America and the Caribbean.

Some $510 million of that $589 million will come from unspent funding originally meant for the Ebola outbreak response. Donovan said the funding shift will help support “immediate, time-critical activities such as mosquito control, lab capacity, development of diagnostics, and vaccines, supporting affected expectant mothers and babies, tracking and mapping the spread and effects of Zika infections in humans, and other prevention and response efforts.”

Obama administration officials are still pushing Congress to approve the nearly $2 billion emergency Zika funding request both for that outbreak and to replenish the shifted Ebola funds. Fauci says NIAID specifically would get about $130 million of that money. Some of that money he says could backfill funding NIAID had previously shifted to Zika from malaria, flu, and tuberculosis research. “If we don’t get all of the Zika money, that is when things start getting hurt,” he says.

Republicans have argued that the administration should rely on existing funds, at least for now. “We are pleased to hear today that federal agencies are heeding our call,” top House of Representatives Republicans led by Representative Hal Rogers (R–KY), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a 6 April statement after the White House announcement. Congress will continue to monitor the “changing needs” that the situation presents, the lawmakers said.