NIH Head Claims Ebola Vaccine Would Exist If They Just Had More Money

It’s always about the money.

Dr. Francis Collins, in an interview with the Huffington Post ahead of this most recent Ebola case in Dallas, claims that if only the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had only had more money, they would have an Ebola vaccine ready by now.

Dr. Francis Collins, head of the NIH
Dr. Francis Collins, head of the NIH

Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said that a decade of stagnant spending has “slowed down” research on all items, including vaccinations for infectious diseases. As a result, he said, the international community has been left playing catch-up on a potentially avoidable humanitarian catastrophe.

“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,'” Collins told The Huffington Post on Friday. “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.”

Uh… back up.

First, let’s talk about those “budget cuts,” as the HuffPo is calling them. Later, in this same story, they admit that it’s not an actual cut – the NIH just hasn’t had a budget increase since 2004.

In fiscal year 2004, the agency’s budget was $28.03 billion. In FY 2013, it was $29.31 billion — barely a change, even before adjusting for inflation. The situation is even more pronounced at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a subdivision of NIH, where the budget has fallen from $4.30 billion in FY 2004 to $4.25 billion in FY 2013.

Yes, inflation has gone up since then. But, as many on Twitter rightly pointed out, it’s not like the NIH was desperately trying to get an Ebola vaccine and was spending ALL their money on that goal.

Or, if you REALLY want to talk about where the money in the government’s health care budget has gone lately…

And let’s be honest about a couple of things. First, a vaccination for a virus takes time to develop. Just think about the crap shoot that happens every year with the flu vaccine. Researchers take their best guess and then make a set batch. This is not like making dinner – you can’t just add this and add that and get the same meal every time. Second, there is not a lot of incentive for companies to produce vaccines – there are now multiple liability issues, plus a fair amount of upfront costs. And let’s not forget that there is an organized movement in the Western world to demonize vaccination. All of those issues combined easily explains why there is no Ebola vaccine. Up until now, Ebola has been confined to Africa, and while it has a shocking mortality rate, its high mortality rate was also the same thing that kept it from spreading – it was so deadly that it “burned itself out.” It was not a threat to the entire world. Now, it has spread beyond the borders of Africa. Now, it has the full attention of medical research.

So please, Dr. Collins, spare us the finger-pointing and the complaining that you didn’t have enough money. The truth is, you just didn’t make an Ebola vaccination, or a treatment, a priority. You have been the head of the NIH since 2009. Don’t tell us you never saw this coming. You just didn’t think you would be the one to have to spend the money on it.

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Ava Gardner