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Bill Gates predicts worst months of the covid-19 pandemic ahead

The Microsoft cofounder argues access to the coronavirus vaccine should be based on medical need and not ability to pay.

Bill Gates predicts worst months of the covid-19 pandemic ahead
Tiksa NegeriReuters

Bill Gates, whose foundation has invested millions of dollars in the development and distribution of vaccines, has become one of mostly widely-heard global voices regarding the covid-19 pandemic. And now, in an interview with CNN, the co-founder of Microsoft has offered his analysis of what lies in store for the world as it continues the fight against the novel coronavirus.

According to Gates, the next four to six months may be the worst of the pandemic. He noted that predictions from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecast a further 200,000 deaths in the US, in addition to the 300,000 people who have already died from the virus. There is hope through, the software entrepreneur says, provided the population follows authorities’ rules regarding the disease, using masks and respecting social distancing, measures which he says could help avoid a large percentage of these deaths.

“We can see that this [the coronavirus pandemic] will end, and you don’t want somebody you love to be the last to die of coronavirus. Certainly, mask-wearing has essentially no downside. They’re not expensive. Bars and restaurants in most of the country will be closed as we go into this wave. And I think, sadly, that’s appropriate. Depending on how severe it is, the decision about schools is much more complicated, because, there, the benefits are pretty high, the amount of transmission is not the same as in restaurants and bars,” Mr. Gates said.

Gates’ pandemic warning

Bill Gates also discussed his warning about pandemics being a threat to mankind, which he made in 2015, saying that when he made his stark prediction he in fact warned that the number of deaths could be even higher. According to the 65-year-old the virus could be more lethal than it is, with the covid-19 pandemic not being the worst possible case. What has been worse, according to Gates, has been the economic impact: “The thing that has surprised me is that the economic impact in the US and around the world has been much greater than the forecasts that I made five years ago.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s work with vaccines

The software tycoon was keen to discuss the work of his foundation on vaccine research, saying the institution is “very agile” and talking about its role in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI). “We’re a partner in a thing called CEPI”, said Gates, “which is the second biggest funder [for vaccines] after the U.S. government. So, in diagnostics, therapy and vaccines, we know where the science is, we know how the pieces need to come together in an urgent way. And so our expertise in infectious disease, which normally only relates to developing countries, applied to the entire world for this crisis.”

Access for all to the coronavirus vaccines

With vaccines now being rolled out, with Pfizer's mRNA vaccine being made available first in the UK and now in the US, Gates was keen to stress the importance of people receiving vaccines based on medical need and not on their ability to pay. “After all, this epidemic has been awful in the way that it’s exacerbated inequities. It’s been worse for Hispanics, worse for blacks, worse for low-income service workers, multi-generational households, a number of things that mean that, in terms of picking who gets the vaccine, we better be using equity to drive all those decisions,” he said.

Gates also said it was important for the entire world to be able to access vaccines, saying the most important thing was to minimise deaths and to get the world economy going. He also pointed out the basic technology in the Pfizer vaccine is from a German company, BioNTech (founded by Turkish immigrants). “Blocking international sharing and cooperation has been disruptive and a mistake during this entire pandemic,” said Gates.

Bill Gates to get the covid-19 vaccine

Asked if he would have the vaccine when offered it, Gates had no hesitations, saying that when it was his turn he would not budge and that he would “visibly take the vaccine.”