Bill Gates on a coronavirus vaccine: The major issue is time
Microsoft (MSFT) founder and billionaire Bill Gates wants life to get back like it was before the global coronavirus outbreak.
The only way to truly do that is with a vaccine — and that will take time.
"People like myself and [Dr. Anthony] Fauci are saying eighteen months,” Gates told BBC Breakfast. “If everything went perfectly, we could do slightly better than that. But there will be a trade-off: We’ll have less safety testing than we typically would have... we just don't have the time to do what we normally do.”
The urgency to develop a COVID-19 vaccine is necessary, Gates stressed.
“If you want to wait and see if a side effect shows up two years later, that takes two years,” he said. “So when you’re acting quickly... this is a public good, so those trade-offs will be necessary.”
‘We're doing everything we can’
The Gates Foundation, through the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) — a global public-private partnership launched in 2017 that the Gates Foundation funds — has thus far made investments in eight vaccine programs.
“We're doing everything we can,” Gates said. “We'll write checks for those factories faster than governments can and they'll come along. It definitely shouldn't be money limited. It should should be all the best constructs, full-speed ahead, science limited.”
The prominent philanthropist has advocated for widespread testing and previously a nation-wide shutdown to slow the spread of coronavirus in the short term.
“The ultimate solution, the only thing that really lets us go back completely to normal and feel good about sitting in a stadium with lots of other people, is to create a vaccine,” Gates said last week. “And not just take care of country, but take that vaccine out to the global population so that we have vast immunity and this thing, no matter what, isn’t going to spread in large numbers.”
The timing — and eventual emergence — of a coronavirus vaccine is being closely watched and considered as an early indicator of the end of the outbreak.
“We’re looking around the world. As they relax the economic controls, the virus flares back up again,” Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “We could have these waves of flareups, controls, flareups and controls until we actually get a therapy or a vaccine. I think we should all be focusing on an 18-month strategy for our health care system and our economy.”
Melinda Gates shed some light on the processes involved in that 18-month vaccine timeline.
“From everything we know from working with our partners for many, many years on vaccines, you have to test the compounds ... go into preclinical trials, then full-scale trials,” Melinda Gates explained in a separate interview with Business Insider. “And even though I'm sure the FDA will fast-track some of these vaccine trials like they did with Ebola, still by the time you get it through the trials safety- and efficacy-wise, then you have to manufacture the vaccine and manufacture at scale.”
‘There was very, very little preparation’
U.S. President Donald Trump has called the coronavirus a “horrible, invisible enemy” and declared that the country is “at war and we’re fighting an invisible enemy.”
But Gates noted that the severe lack of preparation for such a “war” — despite the vast implications — was a serious mistake by governments around the world.
“Unlike the defense budget that prepares us for wars where we simulate the problem when we make sure we're good at it, this risk — which I viewed as even greater than the risk of war — there was very, very little preparation, very few of these germ games,” said Gates, who famously warned about a pandemic in 2015.
In a “germ game,” researchers would “say: ‘Okay how do you build up the ICU capacity? Can you make ventilators? How do you prioritize the diagnostics?’” Gates explained. “That we're just figuring out.”
In any case, once a vaccine becomes available and various public health responses are carried out, the world will better prepare for the next pandemic.
“People just didn’t organize their governments to have that function,” Gates said. “I do think now, because this has been so dramatic, ... we will be ready for the next pandemic. And using the new tools of science, that's very, very doable.”
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