The US Senate on Tuesday voted to advance $1.1 billion in emergency funds to fight the Zika virus, setting the stage for a battle with House Republicans who want $622 million for the mosquito-borne disease.
The Senate vote came three months after the White House asked lawmakers for $1.9 billion for Zika research and prevention, citing concerns over the fast-moving disease that is behind a surge in birth defects in Brazil.
The $1.1 billion -- passed by a 68-29 vote in the Senate -- fell short of President Barack Obama’s request but faces resistance in the Republican-led House of Representatives, which has proposed just $622 million cobbled together from other programs, including those intended for Ebola.
A total of $589 million has already been siphoned from the US government’s Ebola reserves to bolster the US research program against Zika.
White House press secretary John Earnest described the House plan as “woefully insufficient,” and top officials at the National Institutes of Health and the US Centres for Disease Control have said limits on funding make it difficult to pursue important vaccine research.
However, House speaker Paul Ryan said the $622 million would bring to $1.2 billion the total amount of money allocated by Congress for Zika, and “imposes responsible constraints on the administration” by requiring the funds be used by September 2016.
There is no vaccine to prevent Zika, which is actively spreading in about 50 countries and territories, including Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and American Samoa.
Experts have warned the continental United States will likely see mosquito-borne transmission this summer.
“As of May 11, 2016, there were more than 1,200 confirmed Zika cases in the continental United States and US territories, including over 110 pregnant women with confirmed cases of the Zika virus,” said a White House statement.
Zika virus can cause microcephaly and other severe foetal brain defects, and is blamed for more than 1,200 cases of babies being born with unusually small heads and deformed brains in Brazil since last year.