As people continue to die daily from the COVID-19 virus the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has appealed for an equitable distribution of any vaccine that will stop the coronavirus. This comes at a time where the total death toll is officially nearing 933,000 but the real figure is a lot more than one million people.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s fourth annual Goalkeepers Report uses research from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, that indicates almost twice as many people could die from COVID-19 if rich countries buy the first two billion doses of vaccine rather than ensuring they are distributed in proportion to the world’s population.
“One positive thing is that the United States has done very substantial funding for the research and the trials,” Gates said in a conference call. “In return for that, the idea that there is some capacity set aside, that prioritizes doses going to the United States, I don’t think that’s out of line.
“The one thing the United States has not done, as yet, that I’m very hopeful it will, is allocate substantial resources for the vaccine procurement and other drugs and diagnostics for the pandemic. If they would couple that with their funding of the R&D, and facilitate these vaccines being made in many factories, then you’d have the complete picture there.
“So, no one is saying that there shouldn’t be any recognition of where the trials are done, where the R&D funding has come from, but the way to deal with this problem is to have that capacity be as large as possible.”
The most advanced candidates for a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech have agreed numerous deals with various countries. AstraZeneca has inked a US$750 million deal with the Bill & Melinda Gates co-founded Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the Bill & Melinda Gates founded Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to manufacture and distribute 300 million doses of Oxford’s adenovirus-based COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2020.
Gates told National Geographic that “just like in war time, we’ve moved quickly and tried new things”.
“Even in terms of our lifestyle: can you use telemedicine, can you use online education, can you avoid some of the business travel we do? Our eyes have been opened up and that software is getting a lot better. It’s a real acceleration there. But yes, the ingenuity in the pharmaceutical companies, that’s why we have six vaccine candidates — several of which are extremely likely to prove safe and efficacious by early next year. If this pandemic had come 10 years ago, our internet bandwidth wouldn’t have let us do our office jobs. The vaccine platforms wouldn’t be as far along. So, it’s phenomenal we can say that within a few years, with a little bit of luck on the vaccines, some generosity, and a real effort to get the word out that it’s safe, this pandemic will come to a close. (It would be) a lot more negative to say, ‘Oh my God, this is going to continue indefinitely.’ Fortunately, because of science and the pharma companies jumping in, that’s not the case.”
Bill and Melinda Gates said the coronavirus pandemic is undermining efforts to reduce poverty, hunger and illness, while setting back initiatives to improve education, economies and equity around the world.
The Gates Foundation tracks the world’s progress against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in the annual “Goalkeepers” report. In recent years, all 18 measures of those goals were improving. This year, Bill and Melinda Gates noted “on the vast majority, we’ve regressed”.
“We cannot rebuild health systems, economic systems, educational systems, and food systems — to say nothing of making them better than they were when this year began — until the virus that is tearing them all down is under control,” Bill and Melinda Gates said.
“There is no such thing as a national solution to a global crisis. All countries must work together to end the pandemic and begin rebuilding economies. The longer it takes us to realize that, the longer it will take (and the more it will cost) to get back on our feet.”
In an interview with Ina Fried of Axios, below, Melinda Gates called the numbers in the report “devastating”. For example, the report says extreme poverty has gone up by 7% in recent months, “ending a 20 year streak of progress,” citing data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. An estimated 37 million additional people fell into extreme poverty, surviving on the equivalent of less than US$1.90 a day.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, World Health Organization, the European Commission and others in April launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, with the goal of boosting development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and therapies. The group is calling for an additional US$35 billion in funding to support the equitable development and distribution of vaccines.