Sarasota Voices Fight for Zika Funding



A Sarasota-based infectious disease specialist was among experts testifying about the Zika virus to Florida’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. “No county in Florida is impervious to the Zika threat,” says Dr. Vilma Vega. “The number of cases we have seen thus far is only the beginning. This virus could spread exponentially across the state of Florida in the months ahead. We must prepare and plan for the worst.”

At the same hearing, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Tom Frieden says it will take years to develop a vaccine for Zika, a mosquito-borne illness linked to birth defects. He told lawmakers that Congress needs to approve funding quickly to fight the disease.  

Vega told SRQ the state so far has 183 cases of confirmed Zika virus, 38 of which involve pregnant women. The bulk of the infections have been in the Miami and Broward County area she said. There have been 18 tests in Sarasota, but so far no cases of Zika have been confirmed in Sarasota or Manatee counties. But she said every county could be vulnerable, especially as travelers from South Florida come here.

US Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, serves as co-chair of the state delegation and used the hearing to urge action on funding. “I’m confident our delegation will be instrumental in encouraging Congress to put aside partisanship and give disease-fighters the resources they need to protect women and newborns,” he says. And in Florida, support for funding has been bipartisan even as the financial side of debate divides lawmakers nationally. In addition to Florida members of the House, US Rep. Marco Rubio, the most vocal Republican supporter of funding in the Senate, also attended the hearing.

Buchanan has supported a request from President Barack Obama for $1.9 billion to fight the virus, and was the first Republican in the House to do so. The House and Senate are in ongoing negotiations over an emergency funding package. “We need to outpace the virus,” Buchanan says. “It’s no longer a question of whether people will be infected, but when and how many.”

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