Sen. Burr Presses HHS to Take Action on Zika Virus

WASHINGTON – Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, urged Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to use the tools created by the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act of 2006 (PAHPA) to accelerate the research of the Zika virus as well as the vaccines and medicines to combat it. This virus could represent a particularly serious public health threat to pregnant women and their unborn children.

In a letter dated yesterday, the Senators wrote: “As we saw with the Ebola outbreak in 2014, it is critical that clinicians and travelers have timely and accurate information in the face of an emerging threat. This is all the more important because of the unique threat that infection with the Zika virus appears to present to pregnant women and their unborn children.”

Senator Burr added today: “We must be prepared to protect the American people from the full range of threats we may face. While we are continuing to learn more about this serious virus each day, Zika is the kind of threat I had in mind when I worked on the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act. The Department of Health and Human Services must take advantage of the tools Congress provided the agency to protect Americans, especially pregnant women and their unborn children. Now is the time to put the lessons we learned from previous disease outbreaks into practice to combat this virus.”

The Zika virus is believed to be primarily spread though mosquitos and could reach parts of the United States in which 60 percent of the American population resides. Much remains unknown about the virus that has been spreading explosively in South America. It appears as if the virus is linked to microcephaly in infants born to mothers who were infected during pregnancy and Guillain-Barre syndrome.

This week, health officials in Texas reported a case of Zika virus in which it appears the infected individual contracted the virus through sexual contact with an individual infected while traveling abroad. 

PAHPA created the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response to ensure coordinated preparation for and responses to public health emergencies. PAHPA also created and charged the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority with accelerating the advanced research and development of medical countermeasures to protect Americans from identified and emerging public health threats.  Sen. Burr was the author of PAHPA in 2006; he also sponsored and led the reauthorization effort in 2013.

Read the full text of the letter here.