Yes, Budget Cuts Hurt Development of an Ebola Vaccine

There has been some talk by scientists (of all people) that NIH Director Francis Collins’ statement that “if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this [Ebola outbreak] that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been readywas over the top. Personally, I thought this backlash from the scientific community was over the top. Collins should have added some ‘weasel words’: probably, more likely, and so on (of course, then he would have been pilloried by the professional scientific communicators for not speaking clearly).

But it’s also clear that a lot of Ebola-related research got whacked really hard due to budget cuts (boldface mine):

This should not be controversial. His conjecture was based on cold budgeting facts. NIH funding between fiscal year 2010 and fiscal 2014 had dropped 10 percent in real dollars — and vaccine research took a proportionate hit. Research on an Ebola vaccine, at $37 million in 2010, was halved to $18 million in 2014.

Officials at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases report that budget cuts forced them to shelve 14 Ebola-related grants, roughly a quarter of the total. The NIH was forced to prioritize spending, to react to the most pressing current threats rather than potential ones, and because there was little Ebola activity at the time, shifting money to Ebola from, say, cancer or Alzheimer’s research wasn’t a viable possibility.

Are there guarantees that the Ebola vaccine or any of the other projects will pass Phase I trials (that is, not cause harm to healthy people–the first step in clinical testing)? Of course not, but how else we discover this without doing the trials? At least one Ebola researcher thinks we would have been farther along were it not for budget cuts–he might just know something. (By the way, if any of these treatments do pass Phase I trials, will critics admit that the funding cuts hurt our ability to deploy and test them in the field on sick patients? Just asking).

I get the concern in post-Human Genome Project era of overselling science projects, but vaccine development and antiviral therapeutics have to be tested. Funding cuts mean we didn’t even get the opportunity to fail, never mind possibly succeed.

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5 Responses to Yes, Budget Cuts Hurt Development of an Ebola Vaccine

  1. Fiscal austerity meets virulence factor prosperity.

  2. David J. Littleboy says:

    The cuts were obnoxious at a plethora of levels. Everyone screams that the US doesn’t have enough scientists, but in real life the system cranks out way more super-competent PhDs than there are positions for. So we’ve got the brain-power to, if not solve, at least make significant progress on, Ebola. But the idiot republicans cut every non-military program they or their relatives doesn’t have their grubby fingers in.

  3. Juniorprof4ever says:

    Dear Republicans and other Conspiracy theroists,

    As long as people believe in magic and confabulation over emperical data and substantive, corroborating evidence, anything and everything is possible. Then again, I like a good fairy tale as much as the next person. Accordingly:

    Consider this: conservatives and Republicans have been “in” on it the whole time. The outbreak began in 2013 and started to reach epidemic proportions in March 2014. Yet, conservatives who today think they would’ve done a better job at managing the disease, didn’t say anything or take action. That was eight months ago! If Republicans genuinely cared about preventing a pandemic, why didn’t the House immediately step up international aid or call for travel bans back in March? In fact, conservatives were completely silent on the issue. Better to let the epidemic grow, so they could play on people’s fears about ebola for political gain, right?. And just how very convenient for them that they had been cutting funding to public/global health initiatives since 2010. Coincidence? I don’t think so!

    By contrast, the only people who seemed to notice the situation in Africa were scientists and health officials. What was the only government agency that publicized the ebola outbreak back in March? The C.D.C. Nothing to worry about though. Just tell the ‘sheepies” they can’t trust the government unless of course it is a Republican government.

    Don’t argue. My intuition trumps your facts. The End.

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