White House Continues Push for Emergency Zika Funding

The White House has reiterated its request for nearly $2 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus. Republicans had previously replied to the request calling for the administration to use leftover funds allocated for the Ebola outbreak before any new money was appropriated. But last week, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Shaun Donovan responded to House Republicans on the Appropriations Committee explaining that agencies already have plans for this money to continue strengthening public health infrastructure in order to prevent the spread of future outbreaks like Ebola. “Despite progress, our work to combat Ebola and establish capacity to prevent future public health crises is not complete,” Donovan wrote. He also notes that the Ebola fund was always intended to be spent over
the period of multiple years. The White House announced last week that it will partner with the National Governors Association (NGA) in responding to the Zika virus. Each state will designate a point person to convene a summit meeting with health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Meanwhile, the CDC has launched a largescale study to examine whether the Zika virus is the cause of the significant increase in birth defects occurring in Brazil. The CDC will work with Brazilian health officials for four months to study the link between the virus and microcephaly. The results of the study are expected in May. The CDC has also disclosed new data suggesting the sexual transmission of the virus may be more likely than previously considered. The agency is currently investing whether 14 Zika cases in the
United States are linked to sexual transmission.

Grassley to Block Wakefield Nomination

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has promised to block the nomination of Mary Wakefield as U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) deputy security due to outstanding questions about how the department is investigating Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue program. Sen. Grassley wrote to HHS last summer regarding fetal tissue harvesting practices, and has said that the response he received did not fully answer the questions he raised.

Senate Confirms Califf to Head FDA

The Senate voted this week to confirm Robert Califf to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Although there was opposition to the nomination from several members on both sides of the aisle due to the FDA’s response to the opioid epidemic and Califf’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry, Califf was ultimately approved by a vote of 89-4. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) were the only senators to vote in opposition to the nomination. Those not voting were Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). This year, the FDA is expected to release a number of important regulations pertaining to e-cigarettes, biosimilars, and biologic drugs.

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