Florida congressional delegation hears more of coming Zika threat

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Tom Frieden, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a bipartisan group of Florida’s members of Congress on Wednesday that his agency lacks adequate funding to contend with the Zika virus, and that a vaccine “will take years to develop.”

Frieden called the virus “unprecedented,” in its development, saying that,”never before have we seen a mosquito-borne illness linked to a devastating birth defect. It will take years to develop a vaccine.”

Florida has 175 reported cases of Zika virus, according to the Florida Department of Health. The CDC reported 691 travel-related cases across the country.

The Senate approved a bill providing $1.1 billion in funding for efforts to combat the virus last month, while the House approved $622 million. The conference committee will try to find a compromise. President Obama has been calling for a package worth $1.9 million be approved.

After the hearing, Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly said he now backed Obama’s proposal.

“While I have worked in recent months to modify certain components of the President’s plan in a way that I believe would more directly target funding specifically for disease prevention, control, and cure, the fact is it’s time to approve a final package now,” Jolly said. “In recent days Pinellas County leadership has confirmed as much by sharing with me the county’s need for resources now – and my job is to fight for those resources.  As such, I support the President’s funding proposal, voted in favor of it this morning during consideration by the House Appropriations Committee, and I look forward to working with my colleagues from Florida on both sides of the aisle to enact a complete Zika package immediately.  Now is the time.”

The hearing was chaired by Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan, co-chaired by South Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings, and was attended by Jolly, John Mica, Gus Bilirakis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Patrick Murphy, Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Kathy Castor, and Gwen Graham. Marco Rubio also made an appearance.

Buchanan noted the bipartisan makeup of the committee, and said, “we need to outpace the virus. It’s no longer a question of whether people will be infected, but when and how many.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.