Posted: 10/12/2014 9:30 pm EDT Updated: 1 hour ago
BETHESDA, Md. — As the federal government frantically works to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and as it responds to a second diagnosis of the disease at home, one of the country’s top health officials says a vaccine likely would have already been discovered were it not for budget cuts.
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.”
It’s not just the production of a vaccine that has been hampered by money shortfalls. Collins also said that some therapeutics to fight Ebola “were on a slower track than would’ve been ideal, or that would have happened if we had been on a stable research support trajectory.”
“We would have been a year or two ahead of where we are, which would have made all the difference,” he said.
Speaking from NIH’s headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, the typically upbeat Collins was somber when discussing efforts to control the Ebola epidemic. His days are now spent almost exclusively on the disease. But even after months of painstaking work, a breakthrough doesn’t seem on the immediate horizon.