Bill Gates says the pandemic wiped out 25 years of vaccine progress in 25 weeks

For decades, people around the world have been getting richer and healthier. 

The number of humans subsisting on less than $1.90 a day has slowly, but surely, been inching downwards year after year. Until now.

2020, and the global infectious disease outbreak that came with it, have dealt people everywhere a major blow — both to their wallets, and to their collective health. The pandemic is driving the wedge between rich and poor further apart in nearly every country in a way that hasn't been seen in decades. 

"This year is different, it's unique," Bill Gates said on a conference call with reporters ahead of the release of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Goalkeepers 2020 report. "The COVID-19 pandemic has not only stopped progress, it's pushed it backwards."

The change is an unprecedented one in the history of the 20 year-old, $50-plus billion foundation. The foundation's Goalkeepers report, established in 2017, is meant to serve as an annual look at progress around the world on benchmarks of poverty, health and wellbeing, sanitation, education, and other sustainable development goals

"Every single one of the goals was moving in the right direction," Gates said on the call, which replaced what's normally a star-studded in-person event. "The pandemic has, in almost every dimension, made inequity worse." 

This year, there is almost no progress to share (apart from some improvements in smoking cessation rates worldwide). 

"We have to confront the current reality with candor," the report said. "We've regressed."

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Bill Gates through the years

Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates

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Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his girlfriend Jill Bonnett. 

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Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates Holding a CD-ROM

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Microsoft CEO Bill Gates

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Microsoft president Bill Gates demonstrates Microsoft's Windows 95 program from his automobile prior to a press conference in Paris 04 September. Gates was also to meet 500 top computer executives as part of his campaign to launch the company's new software.

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Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates visits an expo previewing Windows XP October 24, 2001 in New York City. The Windows XP operating system goes on sale worldwide October 25.

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Microsoft chairman Bill Gates testifies at Senate Judiciary Committee hearing into whether the Microsoft computer empire is a monopoly that buries the competition.

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Bill Gates holds baby girl Cecil Massango during his visit to the Manhica Health Research Centre in Mozambique September 21, 2003. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced three grants totalling 168 million dollars to fight malaria, a disease that due to increased drug resistance, is on the rise in Africa for the first time in 20 years, killing more than one million people annually.

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Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Software Architect at Microsoft, talks to reporters as Microsoft announced the general availability of the new Microsoft Office System, October 21, 2003 in New York City. "The new Office System is a major leap forward for information workers," said Gates, "It makes information work more productive and more profitable by offering innovative new ways to communicate, to find and share information, and to manage complex projects."

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Former US President Bill Clinton, left, speaks as Bill Gates, chairman, Microsoft Corp. looks on during a session on the G-8 and Africa during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 27, 2005.

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Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates delivers the keynote speech at the fourteenth RSA conference at the Moscone Center February 15, 2005 in San Francisco, California. Gates spoke about internet security and new technology that can recognize spyware that might infiltrate a computer.

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Swatch CEO Nick Hayek and Microsoft CEO Bill Gates attend a press conference for the launch of the new Swatch line 'Paparazzi' by Swatch and Microsoft on October 20, 2004 in New York City.

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Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates smiles during a news conference in Madrid November 19, 2004. Gates signed a technology agreement with the Madrid regional government.

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Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates (L) shakes hands with singer Justin Timberlake during his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas January 4, 2006. Gates took the wraps off its next-generation operating system known as Windows Vista on Wednesday, displaying features aimed at positioning the software giant as the entertainment hub for a future of digitally connected homes.

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Bill Gates attends the Director's Brunch during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival a Sundance Resort on January 23, 2010 in Park City, Utah.

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Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates (L) interacts with a villager in Aulali village, in Khagaria district of the eastern Indian state of Bihar, May 12, 2010. Gates is on a day-long visit to the state.

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Bill Gates, the coo-founder and former chief executive of Microsoft, celebrates his 60th birthday. He was born on October 28, 1955. --- In photo: Bill Gates during a press conference in Berlin, on January 29, 2013. 

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Microsoft founder Bill Gates makes a speech after receiving the Millennium Bambi during the Bambi 2013 media awards ceremony in Berlin November 14, 2013. The annual Bambi awards honours celebrities from the world of entertainment, literature, sports and politics.

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Billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft's co-founder Bill Gates delivers the 14th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on the eve of Mandela Day under the theme "Living Together" in his lecture at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, July 17, 2016.

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Bill Gates, the co-Founder of the Microsoft company and co-Founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation makes a statement after his meeting with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Presidential Palace on June 27, 2016 in Paris, France. Bill Gates mentioned in a short statement after his meeting with French President Francois Hollande that France was a great asset in the fight against AIDS.

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Billionaire Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, center, arrives at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson will be nominated as President-elect Donald Trump's secretary of state, setting up a potential confirmation battle with U.S. lawmakers who have questioned the oilman's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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U.S. President Barack Obama (R) presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Melinda and Bill Gates during a ceremony in the White House East Room in Washington, U.S., November 22, 2016.

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Chairman and Chief Software Architect for Microsoft Corporation Bill Gates delivers the opening keynote address for the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at the Las Vegas Hilton. Gates provided an overview of the latest devices and outlined the company's vision for the future by previewing upcoming products like Windows Vista.

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Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates (R) talks with Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) (L) after testifying before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee March 7, 2007 in Washington, DC. Gates called for more government spending in education and training, especially in high school math and science. He called high schools in their current form a barrier to success in the digital age.

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United States President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and daughter Barbara Bush and former Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates attend the National Aquatics Center on Day 3 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 11, 2008 in Beijing, China.

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Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Ludacris watch the USA Basketball Men's Senior National Team play against the Canadian National Team during the State Farm USA Basketball Challenge on July 25, 2008 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft speaks in Hong Kong on August 12, 2008. Gates was giving a speech at Microsoft Research Asia 10th Anniversary Innovation Forum.

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Bill Gates and director Pablo Larcuen attend the Director's Brunch during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival a Sundance Resort on January 23, 2010 in Park City, Utah.

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Bill Gates tours and interacts with students in the engineering lab at Science Leadership Academy (SLA) prior to the 2010 Franklin Institute Awards held at The Franklin Institute on April 29, 2010 in Philadelphia City.

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Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates (R) shakes hands with France Finance and Economy Minister Christine Lagarde as he leaves the Elysee Palalce in Paris on April 4, 2011, after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Gates is in visit to France for his foundation's Living Proof Project to highlight successes of US-funded global health initiatives.

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Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates poses on April 4, 2011 in Paris, as part of his campaign 'Living Proof' for the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation.

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Bill Gates founder of Microsoft and Bono, singer of U2 meet with President Francois Hollande of France at the Elys Palace to discuss humanitarian projects to fight poverty around the world and support economic development in poor countries.

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French President Francois Hollande (R) welcomes Bill Gates, the co-Founder of the Microsoft company and co-Founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Fondation, at the Elysee Presidential Palace, in Paris, France, on April 1, 2014.

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Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, addresses the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' inaugural Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington,DC on March 14, 2014.

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THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON

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Pictured: (l-r) Bill Gates during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on January 21, 2015 

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Lin Manuel Miranda and Bill Gates pose backstage at the hit musical 'Hamilton' on Broadway at The Richard Rogers Theater on October 11, 2015 in New York City.

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Bill Gates, the co-Founder of the Microsoft company and co-Founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation visits and speaks at the Solidays festival on June 26, 2015 in Paris, France. Bill Gates visited the 17th edition of the Solidays music festival, dedicated to the fight against AIDS.

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Bill Gates attends the official opening of the Barberini Museum on January 20, 2017 in Potsdam, Germany. The Barberini, patronized by billionaire Hasso Plattner, features works by Monet, Renoir and Caillebotte among others.

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Bill Gates, billionaire and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, gestures as he speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview during the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. World leaders, influential executives, bankers and policy makers attend the 47th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos from Jan. 17 - 20.

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Here are some of the biggest setbacks at hand: 

The last time this many countries were in a recession at the same time was in 1870

The World Bank has estimated that, for the first time since 1998, poverty rates are set to go up dramatically worldwide, "as the global economy falls into recession."

Here's how much worse the International Monetary Fund projects the GDP downturn from the coronavirus pandemic will be, as compared to the 2008 recession:

covid gdp dive

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Goalkeepers 2020

In terms of GDP loss, "this is the worst recession since the end of World War II," the report notes, suggesting the GDP drop is twice as great as the 2008 recession.

"The last time this many countries were in recession at once was in 1870, literally two lifetimes ago," the report also said. 

The number of people living on less than $1.90 a day, the international benchmark for extreme poverty, is climbing in lockstep with the virus's spread. 

Global poverty is increasing for the first time in 20 years 

covid poverty dive

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Goalkeepers 2020

"We have 37 more million people in extreme poverty," Gates said. "That's after 20 years where that number's gone down."

The downturn isn't limited to poor countries. In rich countries like the US, income gains had already been uneven in recent years, with the richest getting richer a lot faster than everybody else. 

Now, that divide is growing sharply worse. 

According to the US Census Bureau, roughly one in three Americans had trouble paying their bills in August due to the pandemic, an issue that's disproportionately affecting Black and Latinx Americans.

The pandemic has also meant many more kids have been going without doses of life-saving vaccines.

According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (the Gates Foundation's data partner) 25 years of progress to get the world vaccinated against deadly diseases was just swiftly wiped out, in 25 weeks during the pandemic.

Here's one example of how vaccine coverage has dropped to levels that haven't been seen since the 1990s, showing diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTP) vaccination coverage worldwide:

diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis vaccine coverage worldwide

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Goalkeepers 2020

Tetanus, which people sometimes get from stepping on nails, is one infection that herd immunity won't curb, because you can contract it easily from coming in contact with infected soil, dust, or manure.

That's one reason why it's critical that everyone has access to basic preventative shots like DTP, which halt millions of deaths every year.

Girls who left school during the pandemic may never return

The percentage of students who'll learn how to read, for example, is expected to take a nosedive: 

covid reading decline

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Goalkeepers 2020

Being home from school can also be dangerous, putting girls at especially higher risk of both physical and sexual abuse (as documented during the ebola outbreak in West Africa). Many may never return to the classroom post-pandemic, for various reasons, including pregnancy and lack of free time for schoolwork while quarantining at home. 

To improve on all of these issues and more, "the first thing is to end the pandemic," Gates said. 

One of the best ways to improve the situation quickly is creating a safe, effective vaccine that everyone can use

COVID-19 Vaccine test 3

Rebecca Sirull gets her shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. Sirull was the third patient to receive the shot in the study. 
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Coronavirus vaccine development is the one area, Gates has said, where the US deserves some applause for its coronavirus response.

The country has been supporting research and development on multiple leading vaccine candidates, and, as Gates previously told Insider, "somewhere in this set of vaccines is going to be something that's very effective, and very safe."

Still, the success of the US-based vaccine programs is not guaranteed. According to the Goalkeepers report, "the probability of success is 7% in early stages and 17% once candidates move on to human testing."

Most of the 175-plus vaccine candidates being tested worldwide won't work out, which is one reason why more than 170 countries (apart from the US) have signed on to COVAX, an international agreement for countries to develop and deliver vaccines worldwide. 

Gates says there are very "direct" and "selfish" reasons that every country should want to invest in such a collaboration and support the building of factories for vaccine manufacturing worldwide.

"Creating a perfect barrier between your country and the rest of the world is very, very difficult to do" he said.

But creating a world where most people have been inoculated against the virus, "that's what allows us to go back to normal," he added.

According to modeling from Northeastern University cited in the Goalkeepers report, if 50 of the richest countries in the world (including the US) buy up the first two billion doses of vaccine, hoarding them for their own people, then "almost twice as many people could die from COVID-19."

more covid deaths if vaccine not distributed globally

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Goalkeepers 2020

Gates said it's time to get the "generosity up" in the US, and spend more to create vaccine-manufacturing factories worldwide. It's a push to get the country back to where it's been, historically speaking, as a leader in global health — through administrations both Republican and Democrat.

"I am worried that some donors, in the quality of their aid or the amount of their aid, are not making it the priority that they used to," Gates said. "It shouldn't just be the rich countries winning a bidding war, but rather having equity weigh in."

His best guess is that it might take "two to three years" to get the global development goals back on track. 

"We do believe we'll overcome this," he said. 

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