In early December, President Barack Obama visited the National Institutes of Health, located in Montgomery County’s own Bethesda. There, he toured the facilities and gave a rousing speech calling on Congress to provide more funding for NIH, the site of recent medical advancements in a viable vaccine against Ebola.
Although Ebola has surfaced in the past, the current outbreak is the most threatening to date, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It originated in West Africa but has since spread out globally, with incidents even occurring in the USA.
NIH has participated in groundbreaking research for a leading Ebola vaccine candidate, the NIAID/GSK vaccine. Obama congratulated leaders at NIH on the promising results of the first-ever experimental Ebola vaccine tested on humans, published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.
NIH reported that 20 volunteers received the trial vaccine in September, and the vaccine recently passed Phase I of clinical trials, meaning that it was well tolerated by human subjects and evoked an immune response against the Ebola virus. Although it is just the first step, it is the most promising of all past research done on Ebola. NIH now plans to test the vaccine with health care workers in West Africa.
However, some parts of the national response – such as establishing a network of hospitals equipped to treat Ebola patients – will require additional funding from Congress in order to be fully implemented. American efforts are currently focused on developing medicines as well as prevention on the Ground Zero of Ebola: West Africa.
In an interview with CBS News, an Obama administration official said the United States’ effort to end the epidemic is unprecedented “in terms of its size, scale, and scope.” However, as the Washington Post reported, hospitals have been slow to come forward to serve as Ebola treatment centers in part because of the cost of treating Ebola patients. These huge efforts need money to survive, and Obama stressed this at NIH.
In his speech, Obama asked Congress to approve $6.18 billion in emergency funding. $4.64 billion was requested for immediate response and $1.54 billion was requested as a Contingency Fund to ensure that there are resources available to meet the evolving nature of the epidemic, including manufacturing and distribution of a vaccine.
Within the emergency funding requested by Obama, $238 million are specifically allocated for NIH to continue advanced clinical trials on the NIAID/GSK vaccine. In addition to the $6.18 billion Obama solicited, other money has been raised for relief efforts overseas. Obama said U.S. leadership in the response has already helped draw in $2 billion in resources.
This money is planned to be used for a multitude of prevention initiatives, including fortifying domestic public health systems, containing the epidemic in West Africa, and strengthening global health security to reduce risks to Americans. American health workers will direct efforts to preventing disease outbreaks, detecting them early, and swiftly responding before they become epidemics that threaten our national security.
“Let’s get it done,” Obama said in his speech at NIH, “this can get caught up in normal politics, and we need to protect the American people, and we need to show the world how America leads.”
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Grace Cheung
Graphic by MoCo Student staff artist Valencia Fu