- Coronavirus vaccines and drugs that can cure COVID-19 should go to the people who need them most, not the “highest bidder,” Bill Gates says.
- The billionaire who pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to COVID-19 research said the pandemic will be “longer, more unjust,” and “deadlier” if the drugs do not reach the places they’re needed most.
Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has been fighting the novel coronavirus from the early days of the pandemic. He tried to warn the world back in 2015 about what a pandemic could do to the modern world if countries fail to take preventive measures. When COVID-19 hit, he began funding several research projects via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That included vaccine research, with Bill Gates laying out his vision for developing preventive drugs as fast as possible. The billionaire said it’s advisable to kickstart massive manufacturing efforts for vaccine candidates before they’re authorized for use, in a bid to fast-track deployment. The financial risk is worth it, he said at the time.
Gates explained several weeks ago how he thought vaccine deployment should work once the drugs are approved. He made it clear that it will take years to immunize the world’s population. Getting vaccine candidates to market as soon as possible would not guarantee worldwide access right away, and that’s because it’s impossible to meet all the demand at once. Since then, vaccine development advanced to late-stage trials for several promising candidates, some of which could be available in certain countries as soon as late 2020. But Gates now warns about the biggest mistake we could make once we can start using these vaccines to fight the coronavirus.
Gates addressed the pandemic on Saturday during a virtual COVID-19 conference that was organized by the International AIDS Society, Reuters reports. He said that COVID-19 drugs and eventual vaccines should not be sold to the “highest bidder.” Instead, they should be made available to countries that need them the most.
“If we just let drugs and vaccines go to the highest bidder, instead of to the people and the places where they are most needed, we’ll have a longer, more unjust, deadlier pandemic,” the billionaire said. “We need leaders to make these hard decisions about distributing based on equity, not just on market-driven factors.”
Gates used the fight against the global HIV/AIDS crisis for the past two decades as an example of what we need to do for COVID-19. “One of the best lessons in the fight against HIV/AIDS is the importance of building this large, fair global distribution system to get the drugs out to everyone,” Gates said.
Gates echoed the European Commission and the World Health Organization’s recent warnings about unhealthy competition when it comes to finding COVID-19 cures. Gates’s remarks also seemed to criticize the US government’s approach for potential drugs. The US acquired all the available remdesivir supply for the upcoming months and inked contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars with pharmaceutical companies working on promising coronavirus drugs.
At the same time, the US has the world’s largest COVID-19 caseload at over 3.41 million cases as of Monday morning. America is also first when it comes to COVID-19 deaths, accounting for nearly 138,000 fatalities out of the world’s total of over 574,600 deaths. Brazil (1.9 million cases) and India (900,000 cases) are second and third, with nearly 100,000 deaths between them.
That said, governments in developed nations have not come up with policies on how to roll out vaccines under emergency authorization. These measures will probably be announced once drugs clear Phase 3 trials successfully and receive expedited approvals.