05.17.16

Sen. Burr: We Must Combat Zika, Other Threats, Now

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) spoke about the need to take appropriate steps to combat the spread of the Zika virus in the United States and abroad. Senator Burr authored the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act almost a decade ago to ensure our nation would be better prepared for the range of serious public health threats, such as Zika and Ebola.  Senator Burr supports the bipartisan Zika amendment from Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Patty Murray (D-WA), because it will help protect the women, babies, and families threatened by the Zika virus in North Carolina and across the United States.  The amendment allocates $1.1 billion in emergency funding to combat Zika, a serious public health threat that has been linked with birth defects and neurological conditions and is spread by mosquitos that can be found in North Carolina.  


WATCH Sen. Burr’s Speech here

zika chart

Senator Burr noted today: “I believe we must confront the threat of Zika with the resources this tragic virus demands and the compassion the women and children threatened by it deserve.  The Blunt-Murray amendment does both and I look forward to supporting it and continuing to fight to ensure Americans are protected from Zika and all other threats we may face.”

He continued: “The next threat may be naturally-occurring or it may be the result of a deliberate attack. And we need to be prepared for all of them.  After 9/11, Congress established the BioShield Special Reserve Fund to encourage the development of countermeasures that meet specific requirements for use against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents that the Department of Homeland Security has determined pose a material threat against the United States population sufficient to affect national security.  These are threats like anthrax, Ebola, hemorrhagic fever, and small pox.  And like Zika, the American people expect us to be ready to respond to these threats.”

Senator Burr also addressed his concerns with legislation presented for a cloture vote from Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Nelson (D-FL):

“Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to support the amendment offered by my colleagues from Florida because it would gut BioShield.  The President’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget proposed decreasing BioShield’s funding by $160 million, and then weeks later, the Administration proposed raiding it.  These actions do not instill confidence that the federal government is prepared to handle these threats and will be a committed partner in these public-private partnerships—partnerships that are critical for defeating Zika.  I want to work with the Administration to improve the nation’s biodefense preparedness and response, especially with regard to emerging, infectious diseases, but gutting BioShield is not the answer.”

Prepared remarks are available below:

I rise today to speak on the importance of fighting the Zika virus and the urgency of being prepared for the full range of threats we may face, whether naturally-occurring, like Zika, or man-made.  We still do not have answers to all of the questions surrounding Zika, but we do know this:  Zika is a very serious public health threat, and we need to act.  That’s why I support the Blunt-Murray amendment to bolster our nation’s response to it. 

The CDC has indicated that the mosquitos responsible for spreading the virus could be found in a significant portion of the United States, including my state of North Carolina.  What makes this virus particularly troubling is its potential to cause tragic birth defects in babies born to mother’s infected with Zika.  The virus has also been linked with serious neurological conditions.  The sad news of reported cases of microcephaly is an urgent call to us that this virus is a very serious threat to pregnant women and their unborn children, and we need to take action to help these women deliver healthy babies and to stop the spread of this virus.  It is concerning that we do not have drugs to prevent or treat Zika, and we will likely not have them until after the summer when mosquitos are present in many of our communities back home.

Zika underscores the importance of supporting a flexible, all-hazards preparedness and response framework under the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act—legislation I authored almost a decade ago to ensure our nation would be better prepared for the range of serious public health threats we might face, like Zika.  It also underscores that Mother Nature always has the potential to throw us a curveball—this time in the form of a virus with the potential for devastating birth defects, transmitted through mosquito bites.   This mosquito-borne virus also highlights why we must be prepared with the appropriate tools to protect the health of Americans for situations in which infectious diseases are moving from animals to humans.

Thankfully, because of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, we have been better prepared to respond to Zika and other recent threats.  But this work is never done, and we must always remain vigilant when it comes to medical and public health preparedness and response. 

The next threat may be naturally-occurring or it may be the result of a deliberate attack. And we need to be prepared for all of them.  After 9/11, Congress established the BioShield Special Reserve Fund to encourage the development of countermeasures that meet specific requirements for use against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents that the Department of Homeland Security has determined pose a material threat against the United States population sufficient to affect national security.  These are threats like anthrax, Ebola, hemorrhagic fever, and small pox.  And like Zika, the American people expect us to be ready to respond to these threats. 

Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to support the amendment offered by my colleagues from Florida because it would gut BioShield.  The President’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget proposed decreasing BioShield’s funding by $160 million, and then weeks later, the Administration proposed raiding it.  These actions do not instill confidence that the federal government is prepared to handle these threats and will be a committed partner in these public-private partnerships—partnerships that are critical for defeating Zika.  I want to work with the Administration to improve the nation’s biodefense preparedness and response, especially with regard to emerging, infectious diseases, but gutting BioShield is not the answer.

I also want to take a moment and talk about the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA as I like to call it.  BARDA is helping innovators navigate the development “valley of death” by supporting advanced research and development of medical countermeasures and spurring innovation, like platform technologies, to ensure that we are as nimble as possible when confronted with a serious public health threat.  BARDA is on the front lines of combatting Zika because it is the linchpin in advancing medical countermeasures.  It is critical that we support BARDA in fulfilling its mission.

The Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense recently issued a report that found that there are “serious gaps and inadequacies that continue to leave the Nation vulnerable to threats from nature and terrorists alike.”  We cannot lose our focus on preparing for the threats we have identified.  By strengthening our work in this area we will be better prepared for the next naturally-occurring threat.  Regardless of the threat, we know the American people expect us to protect them from it and be prepared to combat it.  Today this threat is Zika.  Two years ago it was Ebola.  The years before that, novel flu strains.  We don’t know what the next threat will be or how it will arise, but by staying focused on identified threats and being vigilant to finish what we start, we will be better prepared for the next threat, whether naturally-occurring or the result of a deliberate attack. 

I strongly support the Blunt-Murray Zika amendment because it will help protect the women, babies, and families threatened by the Zika virus in North Carolina and across the United States.  It will also ensure that we continue to make progress against the full range of threats we may face.  I believe we must confront the threat of Zika with the resources this tragic virus demands and the compassion the women and children threatened by it deserve.  The Blunt-Murray amendment does both and I look forward to supporting it and continuing to fight to ensure Americans are protected from Zika and all other threats we may face.