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Bill Gates explains the ‘final hurdle’ to a coronavirus vaccine

Published Jun 27th, 2020 9:01AM EDT
Bill Gates: Coronavirus vaccine
Image: Pete Marovich/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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  • Bill Gates said in an interview with CNN this week that the “final hurdle” for a coronavirus vaccine will be getting enough people to actually take it when it’s ready.
  • Gates agrees with Dr. Fauci that a vaccine will be ready in late 2020 or early 2021.
  • As long as 70-80% of people take the vaccine, we can reach herd immunity.

In all likelihood, there will be a vaccine for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. We have no idea how effective it will be, or how long any immunity it provides will last, but NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci said in front of Congress just this week that a vaccine could be ready to roll out to the public by late 2020. But that’s just one hurdle that needs to be overcome, as Bill Gates reminded Americans in an interview with CNN this week that once a safe and effective vaccine is ready, people need to actually use it, which he calls the “final hurdle.”

Bill Gates appeared alongside Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a Coronavirus Town Hall on CNN this week to discuss America’s response to the pandemic. He said the picture globally and in the US is even “more bleak” than he expected it to be in late June, and cautioned that it could still get worse in the fall. He also made it clear that the US wasn’t doing enough to combat the virus, even though testing has finally ramped up.

“It’s possible to ramp up testing for a new pathogen very, very fast,” Bill Gates noted. “In fact, a number of countries did that extremely well in this case and the technology keeps getting better there. The US in particular hasn’t had the leadership messages or coordination that you would have expected.”

Some states have shown just how much of a difference can be made by simply following the guidelines set by the CDC and the WHO. In New York, which was at one point the epicenter of the global crisis, the percentage of positive cases hasn’t been above 2% since June 1st. Meanwhile, Texas is dialing back its reopening and shutting down bars as the positivity rate has spiked above 10% with tens of thousands of cases reported this week.

But a vaccine will undoubtedly change everything, and Gates is on the same page as Fauci in his belief that one will be available by the end of 2020 or in early 2021. According to the WHO, there are more than 140 vaccines currently in development, and as we have reported in recent weeks, some are already approaching Phase 3 trials. But Gates believes that the biggest hurdle isn’t developing or distributing the vaccine — it’s convincing people to use it.

“If it’s a great vaccine, including the transmission blocking, everyone will benefit from the fact that 70 to 80% of the people will take the vaccine,” he said. “We should be able to get herd immunity if you get up to that level, so it really could then — really exponentially — drop the numbers.” But with the extraordinarily accelerated trial period, it will be “a challenge to get that safety database to build up the confidence” of the people. Nevertheless, he thinks that most people will take the vaccine, or at least enough to start inching our way back to normalcy.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.