The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over and it might yet kill more than ten million people worldwide. From the beginning, the institutional response has been lethargic. While officials (including, regrettably, prominent scientific officeholders) provided public assurances, the U.S. did virtually no surveillance sequencing in January or February, even as outbreaks took hold in China and Italy. The CDC botched the initial diagnostic test. Even once working tests existed, they remained invariably slow and hard to obtain for members of the public. We didn’t get off on a good foot.
As the first U.S. lockdowns commenced in March last year, we reached out to various top scientists, and were surprised to learn that funding for COVID-19 related science was not readily available. We expected the U.S.’s immense government funding systems to be unleashed, with decisions made in days if not in hours. This is what happened during World War II, which killed fewer Americans.
Instead, we found that scientists — among them the world’s leading virologists and coronavirus researchers — were stuck on hold, waiting for decisions about whether they could repurpose their existing funding for this exponentially growing catastrophe. It’s worth visiting the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s application overview for this, launched in March 2020, to get a tangible sense for what those seeking emergency funding were facing.