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President Hopes To Draw Attention, And Funding, To Ebola Research

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Today the president is steering the conversation to Ebola. He'll visit with researchers from the National Institutes of Health who are cautiously optimistic after an Ebola vaccine was tested, and there were some promising results. President Obama's expected to use this occasion to press Congress for more than $6 billion in emergency Ebola funding. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The White House is hoping to call attention to an NIH study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week. It might've gotten overlooked in the crush of turkey and cranberry sauce. Back in September, the NIH injected 20 healthy volunteers with a chimpanzee cold virus to which they'd attached a harmless bit of Ebola genetic material. The goal was to stimulate the volunteers' immune systems to recognize and fight the Ebola virus. Anthony Fauci, who heads the infectious disease arm of the NIH, says preliminary results are encouraging.

ANTHONY FAUCI: There were not any serious, adverse events, and the vaccine did induce a kind of response that you would predict would be protective.

HORSLEY: That's a long way from a working vaccine. But the NIH is now in talks with officials in Liberia about a much larger trial. If it works, Fauci says, the vaccine could be a boon to health care workers, burial teams and others at high risk of exposure. The pace of research has picked up in response to the West African epidemic, but Fauci says it's likely to be next summer at the earliest before scientists know if this vaccine or one of the others in development works. In the meantime, White House spokesman Josh Earnest says public health experts will have to rely on other means to fight the disease that's already killed some 6,000 people.

JOSH EARNEST: There is a need for us to continue to focus the government's response not just on domestic preparedness, but also to make sure that we're mobilizing the necessary resources overseas to stop this Ebola outbreak in its tracks in West Africa.

HORSLEY: The White House funding request includes nearly $2 billion to scale up efforts in West Africa, along with money for 50 Ebola treatment centers in this country. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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