Federal budget austerity slowed the development of vaccines and therapies for the deadly Ebola virus that has ravaged West Africa, killed one man in Dallas and infected a health-care worker in Texas, according to the top National Institutes of Health official.
NIH Director Francis Collins told the Huffington Post on Friday that the agency has been working on Ebola vaccines for more than a decade. But the NIH budget has shrunk by about $5 billion over the same period, after adjusting for inflation.
“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,” Collins said.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an NIH division that deals with viruses, has taken a hit with the recent belt tightening. The budget for that subcomponent dropped by about $50 million between 2004 and 2013.
Collins said Congress should approve emergency funding to help with the agency’s work on Ebola, but he added that “nobody seems enthusiastic about that.”
Two Democrats, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Brian Higgins (N.Y.) proposed legislation last month that would raise the agency’s current budget cap, which was imposed under the so-called sequester.
It’s worth noting that President Obama’s 2015 budget request did not call for a major increase in funding for the NIH, despite warnings from Collins that the agency needed more money to stay on the cutting edge of research.
NIH appropriations increased dramatically during the early years of the George W. Bush administration, but they mostly declined after 2003, then picked up again during Bush’s last year in office.