The National Institutes of Health would likely have discovered an effective Ebola vaccine if not for ten years of insufficient funding, said director Dr. Francis Collins in an interview with the Huffington Post's Sam Stein.
"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 said. "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."
Money, or rather the lack of it, is a big part of the problem. NIH's purchasing power is down 23 percent from what it was a decade ago, and its budget has remained almost static. 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.
The growing severity of the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the fear of an outbreak in America haven't loosened the purse strings. NIH has not received any additional money. Instead, Collins and other have had to "take dollars that would've gone to something else" -- such as a universal influenza vaccine -- "and redirect them to this."
The revelation comes as a nurse who treated Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas, Tx. becomes the first person to contract the virus in the United States.
Collins said that the best-case scenario would mean the beginning of a clinical trial in December--that would mean the NIH wouldn't know if it worked until February or March. "If we wait that long to solve this, we will have basically failed with the more traditional measures of contact-tracing to get this epidemic under control," he said.