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EbolaObama calls on Congress to approve $6.18 billion for Ebola fight

Published 8 December 2014

Obama has called on Congress to approve $6.18 billion in spending for America’s strategy to contain and end the Ebola outbreak at its source in Africa, enhance domestic preparedness, speed the procurement and testing of vaccines and therapeutics, and accelerate global capability to prevent the spread of future infectious diseases.”The fight is not even close to being over,” he said.

Officials with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international health agencies have praised the progress made in the fight against Ebola in West Africa, but U.S. officials warn that such progress should not discourage further investment in Ebola vaccine trials and measures to track U.S. travelers vulnerable to contracting the virus. “The fight is not even close to being over,” President Barack Obama told staff at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) during a recent visit. “As long as the disease continues to rage in West Africa, we could continue to see isolated cases here in America.” Two weeks have passed since an Ebola patient was brought to the United States, and while Ebola relief efforts are said to be successful in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, isolated cases have developed in Mali.

Obama has called on Congress to approve $6.18 billion in spending for America’s “strategy to contain and end the Ebola outbreak at its source in Africa, enhance domestic preparedness, speed the procurement and testing of vaccines and therapeutics, and accelerate global capability to prevent the spread of future infectious diseases.” Of that amount, $4.64 billion would be allocated toward immediate needs including manufacturing and distribution of a vaccine, and response efforts in West Africa, while $1.54 billion would be used as reserve funding in case Ebola reemerges in the United States. U.S. funding is critical to the development and production of Ebola vaccines, Obama said. “American leadership matters every time. We set the tone and we set the agenda,” he added. Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and GlaxoSmithKline have published preliminary results showing that a potential vaccine that uses a chimpanzee cold virus modified with Ebola proteins to initiate an immune response to the virus, is safe in human subjects and further tests are underway at the University of Maryland School of Medicine to ensure the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. The Baltimore Sun reported that the institute’s director, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, and Nancy Sullivan, chief of its biodefense research section, led Obama on a tour last Tuesday of the labs where the vaccine was developed.

Human trials of a vaccine developed by Merck and NewLink Genetics Corp. are underway at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and at NIH. Ebola researchers in Atlanta, Britain, Switzerland, and Mali are also conducting vaccine trials.

Thirty-five hospitals across the United States are now prepared to care for Ebola patients with staff trained in the use of the personal protective equipment worn when treating Ebola patients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised hospital and airport officials on how to evaluate travelers returning from Ebola stricken countries. “We got some new guidance, and it’s probably not the last,” said Maryland Health Secretary Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein. “We continue to meet regularly in Maryland to assess what we know and if we need to decide to make changes.” Maryland health officials are monitoring roughly 120 travelers and have tracked about 450 over the past few months. State and federal health officials, worried about the growing costs of Ebola response efforts, have now joined Obama in asking Congress to approve funding requests.

“No one, a year ago, had Ebola response in their budgets,” said Ron Klain, the nation’s Ebola “czar,” during a recent talk at Georgetown University. “Those resources are running out. The only way we can keep up the response — let alone expand it — is to get this emergency funding request.”