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Obama says Zika vaccine is likely if Congress funds research

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(Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama said U.S. researchers can probably develop a vaccine for the Zika virus more quickly if Congress sets aside partisan squabbling and passes legislation to fund programs aimed at combating the spread of the pathogen that’s been linked to birth defects.

“We feel fairly confident that we can develop an effective vaccine for Zika,” Obama said Friday at the White House after a briefing by top U.S. health authorities. “I expect Congress to get this funding done before they leave for vacation.”

“We’re beginning right now on a whole bunch of promising pathways to get those tests done so that in fairly short order we might have a vaccine available and people won’t have to worry about this. The problem is right now is that money is stuck in Congress,” the president said.

Related: Zika funding spat divides Republicans before mosquito season

Obama and congressional Democrats are at an impasse with Republicans who control the legislature over funding for Zika. Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a Republican bill that would have provided $1.1 billion to fight the virus because of unrelated policy riders attached to the legislation, including provisions to prevent money going to the women’s health clinics Planned Parenthood runs, and to allow the display of the Confederate flag at veterans’ cemeteries.

Democrats and the White House had also criticized the bill for falling short of Obama’s request for $1.9 billion, and for cutting spending on other programs to offset the price tag.

The White House had said Obama would veto the legislation had it passed the Senate.

“It’s been politics as usual rather than responding to a very serious health request,” Obama said. A vaccine might be produced “quickly” with adequate funding, he said.

Shortly before the Senate vote, the Florida Department of Health announced the state’s first birth of a baby with a Zika-linked defect, microcephaly, to a Haitian woman who contracted the virus abroad.

Democrats and Republicans have vowed to make the other side pay a political price for failing to fund efforts to prevent the spread of the virus, which has so far infected 287 pregnant women in the U.S. and another 250 in U.S. territories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Infection. Almost 3,000 infections have been reported in the U.S. and its territories, the agency says.

Lawmakers plan to leave for their summer break after July 15 and return on Sept. 6.


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