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Sep 15, 2020

Gates: The U.S. isn’t helping get a COVID vaccine to the rest of the world

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The Gates Foundation has played matchmaker between several pharma companies to manufacture billions of vaccine doses, even if they aren't the eventual inventor.

Many organizations are working toward a COVID-19 vaccine. But even once discovered, we’ll still have to manufacture and distribute it around the world.

That is an incredibly complicated and expensive task. But, ultimately, it may be the only way out of a crisis that’s devastated the global economy and, according to a new progress report from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has reversed progress toward poverty, education and curing diseases.

The foundation is helping fund the development and distribution process, and co-chair Bill Gates says the U.S. has not been pulling its weight so far.  

“Well, the European countries have stepped up here,” he said. “The U.S. is kind of unusual. It’s funded a lot of R&D that is helping move candidates forward. But it’s only funded manufacturing procurement for itself.”

Gates also talked about how the foundation is playing matchmaker between several possible COVID-19 vaccine makers, based on the connections the group made on vaccines for other diseases, like malaria.

“A number of the [vaccine maker] candidates, including AstraZeneca, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi, can be made at very low cost and very high volume. And so we’ve set up arrangements where not just the company that invents the vaccine and supervises the trials, but also other companies who have high-volume manufacturing capacity, can take exactly that same vaccine and produce billions of doses,” he said. “We need many billions of doses before the pandemic is over, and the quicker we get it, the sooner we can bring it to an end. Ideally, we’re getting over a billion doses out in 2021 and enough to end the epidemic in 2022.”

The full transcript of “Marketplace Tech’s” interview with Bill Gates is available here. Tomorrow, he’ll talk with Molly Wood about investment in climate adaptation technology.

Related links: More insight from Molly Wood

The foundation’s annual Goalkeepers Report measures progress on 17 United Nations goals related to poverty, disease, justice and climate change. As I mentioned, this year the report says that for the first time in its existence, the world has regressed in almost every category.

To Gates’ point about the equitable distribution of an eventual vaccine, and he’s clearly confident there will be one, the report includes modeling from Northeastern University that says if the vaccine is distributed in high-income countries first, and not globally, we’ll prevent 33% of COVID-19 deaths compared to no vaccine. But if it’s distributed based on population first, we’ll prevent 61% of deaths compared to no vaccine. “What the world does in the next few months matters a great deal,” the report said.

What we’re doing now … well. Researchers and public health experts are suggesting that drug development companies need more transparency into their trials. It’s normal for them to keep things quiet to protect intellectual property, but a growing number of Americans say they aren’t confident in whatever vaccine is produced, given all the political shenanigans that have been introduced. And they say business as usual should probably not apply this time, especially since billions of dollars of federal taxpayer money are funding this effort.

Fully 62% of Americans who responded to a Kaiser Health survey said they think a vaccine will be rushed out before it’s ready, due to pressure from President Donald Trump. Apparently, a disturbing number of people on Facebook have a whole other set of fears related to the vaccine and Bill Gates that no, we are not going to bother to entertain.

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The team

Molly Wood Host
Michael Lipkin Senior Producer
Stephanie Hughes Producer
Jesus Alvarado Assistant Producer