A bipartisan measure introduced by U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-NC) and U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to speed up the development of vaccines and treatments against the Zika virus is set to become law after passing in the Senate last month and in the House of Representatives today. The legislation was passed at a critical moment, given that earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention characterized Zika as “[s]carier than we initially thought.”
The bill—introduced by Rep. Butterfield and Sen. Franken will encourage the development of vaccines and treatments against the Zika virus by adding it to the Food and Drug Administration’s Tropical Disease Priority Review Voucher Program. In the last several months, the mosquito-borne virus has spread rapidly throughout South and Central America and is now reported in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and in at least 30 states.
“The Zika virus is a global public health emergency. With no vaccines to prevent or medicines to treat the Zika virus, hundreds of millions of people across the world are susceptible to this dangerous virus,” said Rep. Butterfield. “This legislation is an important step in incentivizing the creation of treatments for Zika. The bill supports research and development at home and will help protect millions of people around the world.”
Yesterday, the White House and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) acknowledged that the dangers posed by the Zika virus are greater than originally anticipated. The CDC estimates that there are already hundreds of thousands of cases in the United States and that number is expected to grow as we approach the summer. Women who are or may become pregnant are especially at risk because the Zika virus is linked to devastating birth defects in newborns.
“The Zika virus is spreading rapidly, and to fight back, we need to make sure we have the necessary tools to prevent and treat the disease,” said Sen. Franken, a member of the Senate Health Committee. “Our bipartisan bill will encourage innovators to help stop the virus in its tracks, and I’m very pleased that we got the measure across the finish line. This is an important step to combat Zika, and I look forward to President Obama signing it into law.”
“Every day we are learning more about the Zika virus and its impact on humans,” said Rep. Butterfield. “The link between Zika virus and other life-threatening complications is deeply troubling. By adding Zika virus to the FDA’s Tropical Disease Priority Voucher Program, we are one step closer to the development of much-needed vaccines and treatments.”
The U.S. Senate passed the bill on March 17, 2016. The legislation will now be sent to the White House to be signed by President Barack Obama.