- Bill Gates argues that the success of Pfizer and Moderna’s coronavirus vaccines bode well for other vaccines in development.
- Gates also speculated that existing nasal swab tests for COVID-19 could be replaced by a less invasive test next year.
- Gates is optimistic that the U.S. will be able to defeat the coronavirus pandemic by late 2021.
Despite all of the chaos and havoc caused by the coronavirus over the past year, there is thankfully some good news on the horizon. First and foremost, coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were both granted emergency use authorizations from the FDA this month and, in a best-case scenario, healthy Americans may be able to receive said vaccines as early as late-March. What’s more, if a majority of Americans take the vaccine over the next few months, Dr. Fauci believes life could return to normal as early as this coming spring.
Beyond the two aforementioned vaccines, Bill Gates — who has emerged as something of an authoritative figure on the virus and the pandemic at large — recently outlined three things that will help make 2021 a much better and safer year than 2020.
In a lengthy but incredibly informative blog post published on GatesNotes yesterday, the Microsoft co-founder articulated that the success of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines — both of which saw a 94.5% efficacy rate in clinical trials — bodes well for a variety of other vaccine candidates currently in development:
What you might not have read is that the success of the first two vaccines also bodes well for many of the other candidates. Virtually all of the vaccines now undergoing efficacy studies attack the same part of the novel coronavirus as the first two do. (It’s the protein that spikes out of the virus, giving the coronavirus its crown-like shape as well as its name.) Now that researchers know attacking that particular protein can work, they have reason to be optimistic about other vaccines that do the same thing.
Gates also explained that the coronavirus pandemic has led to collaborative efforts between companies and countries to a degree we haven’t quite experienced before. As a prime example, Gates said that his foundation has helped assemble a number of “second-source agreements” wherein companies capable of producing vaccines in huge quantities work closely with companies developing COVID-19 vaccines:
A second-source agreement is designed to make the most of both skill sets. A company that excels at production agrees to manufacture products designed by another company with a viable vaccine candidate. For example, the biggest vaccine manufacturer in the world, Serum Institute of India, is producing doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. They’ve already begun production, so there will be doses available for low- and middle-income countries if AZ’s vaccine is approved for use. And our foundation took on some of the financial risk, so if it doesn’t get approved, Serum won’t have to take a full loss.
It’s hard to overstate how unusual these second-source agreements are. Imagine Ford offering up one of its factories for Honda to build Accords. But given the scale of the problem and the urgency of solving it, many pharmaceutical companies are seeing the benefit of working together in new ways like this.
Another interesting point raised by Gates centers around coronavirus testing. As you probably know by now, the most accurate coronavirus test — the nasal swab — is far from a comfortable experience. And while the actual test is perhaps less frightening than some of the illustrations made it out to be, improving the testing experience as a whole can only help. To this end, Gates articulates that less invasive testing could become commonplace next year:
One cool innovation that’s making this work possible is the ability to let people collect their own samples by swabbing the tip of their nose. (A study that we funded was the first to show that this is just as accurate as the standard nasopharyngeal swab.) If you’ve ever had one of the nasopharyngeal tests, you know how uncomfortable they are—and how they can make you cough or sneeze, which is bad news with a respiratory virus like COVID-19 because it increases risks to healthcare workers. With any luck, the days of the jam-a-stick-to-the-back-of-your-throat COVID-19 test will soon be over.
Gates’ full blog post is chock-full of interesting facts and thought-provoking analysis. On a related note, Gates earlier this month said that the U.S. will likely move past the coronavirus pandemic sometime in 2021. On a global scale, Gates believes the coronavirus pandemic will be all but a memory by the end of 2022.