President Barack Obama said Friday that an effective vaccine for the Zika virus could be developed in “fairly short order” if Congress were to quickly approve the budget needed for the research and the vaccine itself.
The president made the remarks after being briefed at the White House by top officials of Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
Obama said that for a vaccine to be widely available, it has to be tested to make sure it is safe and effective.
Researchers are in the developing and testing phase of work on a vaccine to guard against the mosquito-borne virus. Obama said that if the effort was well-funded, he was “fairly confident” an effective vaccine could be developed before the virus spreads to the continental United States.
The U.S. Zika cases reported so far have all involved people who contracted the virus outside the United States, or were infected through unprotected sex with an infected partner. There have not yet been any cases reported of local transmission of the virus in the United States.
The Obama administration has submitted a budget request of $1.9 billion to Congress, and the president is trying to press lawmakers to pass a Zika prevention bill before they leave for summer vacation. Obama criticized them for “playing politics” with public health.
According to the CDC, seven infants have been born with birth defects related to the Zika virus in the U.S. as of June 23. There have also been four pregnancy losses in the U.S. involving Zika and one in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the agency said.