by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
After 54 years at the NIH, tomorrow marks Dr. Anthony Fauci’s last day in office as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). While many were angered by his changing and conflicting recommendations, I am not. They are mere symptoms of a much larger and deeper problem. Dr. Fauci’s agency failed to promptly fund key research during the pandemic. That research would have abruptly ended many of the COVID controversies that divided our country.
In a study of NIH funding published in The BMJ, my Johns Hopkins colleagues and I found that in the first year of the pandemic, it took the NIH an average of five months to give money to researchers after they were awarded a COVID grant. This should be unacceptable during a health emergency. …
… Imagine if, in February 2020, Dr. Fauci had marshaled his $6 billion budget, vast laboratory facilities, and teams of experts to conduct a definitive lab experiment to establish that COVID was airborne. On this question and many others throughout the pandemic, our problem was not that the science changed—it’s that it wasn’t done.
NIH funding for COVID research was also erratic. The NIH spent almost $1.2 billion on long COVID research, but virtually nothing on masks, natural immunity, COVID in children, or vaccine complications. Ironically, the NIH spent more than twice as much on aging research as it did on COVID research in the first year of the pandemic, according to my team’s analysis. I’m all for aging research, but not when a novel virus is killing thousands of Americans per day.
A randomized controlled trial is the gold-standard method to establish a drug’s effectiveness. Yet remarkably, for COVID, we still don’t have randomized trials for so many drug recommendations, including the new bivalent vaccine, COVID vaccine boosters in young people, the optimal vaccine dosing interval, and even the antiviral drug Paxlovid in vaccinated people.