MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Florida Governor Rick Scott is using his emergency powers to direct $25 million in state money to help develop a Zika vaccine meant to battle the spread of the virus that’s been linked to birth defects.
Scott – who has been lashing out at the federal government for failing to pass a bill that includes Zika funding – says the money will be used exclusively on Zika research, including speeding up the creation of the vaccine and developing new testing methods.
As part of the deal, the Florida Department of Health will have to draw up a grant program for universities and others interested in conducting the research.
This marks the third time Scott has ordered the state to spend money to fight Zika. Florida now has set aside more than $61 million.
Meantime, in Washington, D.C., the battle for federal funding in the Zika fight continues.
Former DNC Chair and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Thursday no definitive deal had been reached on funding for the Zika virus.
She was joined by Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen among others and addressed the press after a meeting with Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine to provide an update in the battle against the spread of the virus.
Her tone was cautious.
“I’m going to be a little bit of a skeptic, frankly, because, in the House side, we have not had that announcement that we have an agreement on Zika, so respectfully, I know that there is buzz that we have had some kind of resolution. That is not something the Democrats have been made aware of,” said Wasserman Schultz.
She says when it comes to budget negotiations there is no deal until there is a whole.
“The expression up here is nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to,” said Wasserman Shultz.
Wasserman Schultz also shared her criticism of the negotiation process to pass funding to fight the spread of the virus.
“Some of our colleagues seemed to have forgotten that mosquitoes have wings and that boundaries are artificial. Geographical boundaries are not understood or acknowledged by mosquitoes so this is how the spread of mosquito-borne Zika has occurred,” said Wasserman Schultz.
She said the negotiations have not gone as fast as most would have liked due to add-ins in the budget plan.
“I’m sorry I’m not popping the champagne for it just yet because we have to remain vigilant. There are definitely still House members who very clearly want to add political riders to the whole CR but particularly to the whole Zika funding and prohibit access to women’s healthcare,” said Wasserman Schultz.
It’s a concern echoed by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen.
“Our community deserves better, the time for federal action is now. I have communicated to the leadership in the House my deep frustration with the paralysis of appropriating funds to fight this public health menace. Our South Florida Congressional delegation stands united in a bipartisan manner in our deep disappointment with the dysfunction of this broken system. We have been saying loud and clear: stop the political gamesmanship and pass a full funding Zika bill now. It is way overdue,” said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen.
On the other hand, some say they are confident it will happen soon.
“We all agree that funding needs to be passed as quickly as possible. I strongly believe that we need to provide every penny needed to fight this disease, and not one dollar less. This virus poses a threat to every Floridian, and I am confident we will be able to secure funding to protect the lives of unborn babies and their families,” said Rep. Diaz-Balart.
“Today, we once again come together to urge Congress to pass a clean Zika bill to fund response efforts long-term, and I’m confident that the concerns of our South Florida community will soon be addressed,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo.
The update comes as another round of aerial spraying is scheduled for Miami Beach on Saturday as the city and county battle the spread of the virus.
Weather permitting, a plane loaded with insecticide naled will take off around 6 a.m. The spraying will take about half an hour.
The aerial spraying to kill adult mosquitoes will treat a 1.5 square mile area of the city’s Zika hot zone bounded by 8th Street to the south, 28th Street to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Biscayne Bay to the west. The so-called Zika hot zone on Miami Beach extends to 63rd Street.
As of Thursday, the state’s Department of Health announced two new non-travel related cases in Miami-Dade County. One of the new cases is from Miami Beach, while the other is under investigation to determine where the person was infected.
There are currently 92 non-travel-related Zika cases in Florida and 682 travel-related cases. Of those cases, 90 pregnant women have been infected.