The head of the National Institute of Health (NIH) is blaming budget cuts for the current Ebola epidemic, claiming that a vaccine would have developed if the NIH’s budget hadn’t been stagnant for the past decade, the Huffington Post reports.
Dr. Francis Collins told the Post that the “NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here.'”
When asked why his organization didn’t have “something ready,” he replied, “frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”
Instead, as the Ebola epidemic spreads, the NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must focus on developing a therapeutic regimen — like the Canadian-developed ZMapp — to treat individuals only after they are infected. Collins said that even the therapeutic route is problematic at this time, as it will be extremely difficult to produce an adequate supply of the experimental antibody cocktail by December.
The need for such therapeutic measures could have been prevented, Collins said, had Congress not hamstrung the NIH’s budget, which has remained essentially unchanged since 2004. Not even the increasing severity of the Ebola crisis can convince lawmakers to further fund the NIH, forcing the organization to “take dollars that would’ve gone to something else and redirect them to this.”
The sequestration further limited the institute’s abilities, as it slashed $1.55 billion from its 2013 operating budget.
Collins did emphasize, however, that despite the pressing need to develop both a vaccine and a therapy for Ebola, it is highly unlikely that the epidemic will reach Liberian proportions in the United States.
“Certainly there’s been a lot of fear [in the] response from people who are probably at essentially zero risk, that this might somehow take over our country, which is really not going to happen,” he told the Post.
“And despite all the assurances, it still hasn’t quite sunk in. There’s still the cable news people who are whipping this up, and frankly sometimes using it for political purposes to sort of shoot at the government.”
“More people will die today of AIDS than have died so far in the entire Ebola epidemic,” Collins added. “We’ve somehow gotten used to that, and it doesn’t seem to be so threatening or frightening.”