April 28, 2016

Hirono: We Must Act Now To Prevent Widespread U.S. Zika Outbreak

Senators Mazie K. Hirono took to the Senate floor today to raise awareness of the Zika virus and call for expediently funding President Obama’s funding request to fight Zika. To date in Hawaii, there are seven confirmed cases of Zika and one case of an infant born with microcephaly, a serious birth defect directly linked to Zika.

Senator Hirono is an original cosponsor of legislation that would fund the President’s request.

From Senator Hirono’s remarks:

“Hawaii knows firsthand the impact of vector borne diseases like Zika, and of the resources and effort it takes to contain an outbreak. Seven Hawaii residents have already been diagnosed with Zika. One infant born to a mother with Zika has been diagnosed with microcephaly, a devastating birth defect. 

“When the President sent his $1.9 billion request to Congress, he laid out how the funding would be used. It would go toward vector control, public education campaigns, and vaccine development. It would go toward the work of companies like Hawaii Biotech, which is racing to complete work on a vaccine. We must fund the emergency request so federal agencies that stand on the battle lines of combating disease can do their work.”

Click here to watch Senator Hirono call for more resources to fight the Zika virus

Senator Hirono’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Madam President,

I rise to join my colleagues in raising awareness about the Zika virus and the need to pass the President’s emergency appropriations request to get ahead of this crisis in the making. Some question the need for this emergency appropriations request. Perhaps those who believe funding the President’s request is a waste feel that we are not at immediate risk.

Zika may not seem like a threat in the U.S. now because we have not hit peak mosquito season. This head-in-the sand mentality is irresponsible.

Zika is ravaging South America—which is having its summer right now. Zika is on the move.

The mosquito that is the main Zika carrier is already in 13 states and another mosquito also capable of spreading Zika is in more than 30 states. As families travel this summer, they will be moving in and out of states and countries impacted by Zika. So to my colleagues who aren’t worried about the spread of Zika right now- it’s time to wake up.

With summer comes mosquitos, including, of course, the mosquitos carrying Zika. We must do all we can to ensure that Zika does not gain a foothold in the United States. Let’s act and not react to the Zika threat. This means funding the President’s $1.9 billion request for Zika.

Hawaii knows firsthand the impact of vector borne diseases like Zika, and of the resources and effort it takes to contain an outbreak. Seven Hawaii residents have already been diagnosed with Zika. One infant born to a mother with Zika has been diagnosed with microcephaly, a devastating birth defect.

On top of that, Hawaii has been dealing with an outbreak of Dengue fever, which is spread by the same mosquito that carries Zika. The Dengue outbreak began in September, and only yesterday were we able to go 30 days without a new case. The unique location of Hawaii means it serves as transit location for many Pacific Island nations where Zika outbreaks have occurred in the recent past—places like Yap and French Polynesia.

We know this disease can migrate—and that it can migrate quickly. That’s why we have to get ahead of it. Having the administration shift Ebola funding around is not the answer- this is akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul. What will we do if Ebola also has a resurgence this summer? Shift money back from Zika?

The United States is in a strong position, compared to many other countries, to fight Zika. We have in development vaccines, blood screening and cleaning tools, and research in development that will be game changers. When the President sent his $1.9 billion request to Congress, he laid out how the funding would be used. It would go toward vector control, public education campaigns, and vaccine development.

It would go toward the work of companies like Hawaii Biotech, which is racing to complete work on a vaccine. We must fund the emergency request so federal agencies that stand on the battle lines of combating disease can do their work.  We must also strengthen vector control programs and emergency preparedness programs.

It’s imperative that we give our communities the tools they need to prepare for Zika. Time is still on our side right now, but we must act quickly.  Let’s come together to ensure that Zika does not become a full-blown public health emergency in the United States. Let’s fund the President’s request.

I yield the floor.