Declaring the "fight is nowhere close to being over," President Obama on Tuesday heralded strides in the effort to confront Ebola in West Africa and in protecting the U.S. against the spread of the deadly virus. He said squelching the disease remains an urgent priority even if the American public's attention has shifted elsewhere.

"We can't let down our guard even for minute," Obama said. "We can't just fight this epidemic, we have to extinguish it."

Obama spoke after touring the National Institutes of Health in Washington's Maryland suburbs where he witnessed advances in Ebola-fighting research. He highlighted the NIH's progress in researching an Ebola vaccine, calling the initial results "exciting" while cautioning that there are "no guarantees" about the vaccine's ultimate success.

NIH researchers last week reported that the first safety study of a vaccine candidate found no serious side effects, and that it triggered signs of immune protection in 20 volunteers. U.S. health officials are planning much larger studies in West Africa to try to determine if the shots really work.

Obama says that in order to fully tackle Ebola, "we have to solve it in West Africa," the source of the virus.

He prodded Congress to approve his request for $6.2 billion in emergency spending against the outbreak, urging lawmakers to act before they break for the holidays.

"We can't beat Ebola without more funding," he said. "It's a good Christmas present to the American people and to the world."