Expert says federal funding for Zika vaccine falls short of what's needed in long run

The federal government is now moving around $81 million that will go toward funding research for a Zika virus vaccine, but a research expert told Action News Jax it isn’t nearly enough money for what’s needed to fight the virus.

In a letter sent to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the health and human services secretary was critical of Congress for not allocating money for Zika research.

“The failure to pass a Zika supplemental has forced the administration to choose between delaying critical vaccine development and raiding other worthy government programs,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell wrote.

Burwell said the federal government is taking some money that was once meant to fight Ebola to fund Zika vaccine research before the money runs out.

Burwell said even the $81 million doesn't leave enough money to fund other activities related to prevent the virus from spreading.

Dr. Greg Poland, a Zika vaccine researcher at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, told Action News Jax the federal funding falls far short.

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“It is a step in the right direction but terribly inadequate,” Poland said. “There needs to be a substantial and sustained commitment to dealing with the problem that is directly affecting the health of Americans and for which they themselves can’t do much to protect themselves against. This is the role of a federal government.”

Poland said the phases for developing vaccines can take years and estimates roughly $1 billion is needed to fund a vaccine for this kind of a virus.

“This isn’t something we have the luxury of considering over time,” Poland said. “This is a public health emergency and it needs to be treated that way.”

In a statement, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in part: "As I've said repeatedly, we never should have gotten to this point. Congress should have passed additional funding months ago, and Senate Democrats never should have blocked the bill. I was one of the first Republicans to support President Obama's request for additional funding to fight Zika, and I've supported every anti-Zika bill the U.S. Senate has considered. As soon as Congress reconvenes, we should resolve this issue once and for all. This public health crisis is no place for politics."

Gov. Rick Scott's office released the following statement on Zika funding: "As the Governor has continued to say, he hopes the President and Congress work together to reach a solution. In Florida, we have authorized more than $26 million in state funds to fight Zika and we will allocate more if needed."