Viewpoint: NIH was silent during the pandemic

A host of federal scientific agencies have been criticized for their response to the pandemic, including the CDC and FDA. The National Institutes of Health should be included in some of that criticism given its silence in making relevant scientific discoveries, argues Cary Gross, MD, and Ezekial Emanuel, MD, PhD, in a June 5 Atlantic opinion piece. 

The NIH, given its role in funding scientific research at medical schools, academic hospitals and universities across the nation, should be well-positioned to provide answers regarding the treatment and prevention of COVID-19. However, the authors argue it seemed a "doddering, tired institution" throughout the pandemic, with only a small number of studies on treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients being generated by the NIH.

Its slow grant-funding mechanisms also hold back innovative research, say the authors, with only nine of 240 registered research programs on long-COVID being funded by the NIH. They also argue that its peer-review system means that innovative research proposals, such as that of mRNA proteins used to create COVID-19 vaccines, are shot down more frequently than traditional studies. 

The authors say the NIH should embrace diversity of scientists and mindsets and look to three key traits that advance the field; "creativity, persistence and courage."

 

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