June 23, 2020
Suzanne P. Clark
President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
In the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bill and Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation, among the world’s most philanthropic organizations, have donated over $300 million to facilitating research, supporting a coordinated global response and aiding in the development of safe and effective vaccines. In this interview with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, they discuss the pandemic and the things still critical to moving things forward in the U.S and around the world.
There Is Optimism a Vaccine Will Arrive at Scale by 2021
Bill and Melinda Gates have long been known as crusaders in the fight against infectious diseases, particularly in developing countries. Decades of involvement have led to their help in designing and funding many new vaccines. Their experience and partnership with scientists and pharmaceutical companies fuel their strong belief that by 2021 there will be a COVID-19 vaccine at scale.
According to Melinda Gates, there are currently three vaccines that are particularly promising. Pharmaceutical companies, together with scientists, are working together so that as soon as trials are completed, vaccines can move right into manufacturing and ultimately distribution. “The benefit of getting the vaccine, even three, four months earlier will be very dramatic in terms of ending the very awful economic effects along with death and disease,” Bill Gates explained.
The Solution Rests With a Coordinated Global Response
Adding to their optimism, Melinda Gates said, “We have never seen the companies come together in this way.” What we are seeing for the first time, she continues, is world and business leaders thinking ahead about manufacturing in terms of what it means for the world, not just their own parts of the world.
Meaningful efforts uniting world leaders, from the European Commission to the Vaccine Alliance, means money and other resources coming together and at the ready as soon as the vaccine is, and the ability to purchase it for the rest of the world will follow.
Vaccines Must First Reach Healthcare Workers and Vulnerable Populations
The Gates Foundation is committed to ensuring an equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, it was the main reason they became involved in the response to the pandemic and they believe that it is essential to have a coordinated effort with leaders around the globe to ensure the resources are there to acquire the vaccine as soon as it’s available.
“The last thing you want is a bidding war between countries for this vaccine,” said Melinda Gates. “We know there are 60 million healthcare workers around the world who are keeping everybody safe. They deserve to get the vaccine first.” From there, a tiered approach to a rollout will continue with the most vulnerable populations — namely Black and Native Americans, as well as those with underlying health conditions and the elderly.
This Won’t Be the Last Pandemic That We Face
In 2016, the Gates Foundation raised concerns about the dangers of a world pandemic. We are in a moment that the Gateses and others foreshadowed. Going forward, “we have to invest in making sure that we catch the disease sooner and that we have the platforms to make the diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines very quickly,” said Bill Gates.
There is a prevailing feeling about the absence of forethought and preparedness in the U.S. versus other countries who took their experience and moved forward and ultimately saw results much more quickly. Bill Gates cited countries including Taiwan, New Zealand, and Australia as those who moved a lot faster. “We’ll have to prepare for the next one,” he conveyed.
The lasting effects of the current pandemic remain to be seen. But ultimately, according to Melinda Gates, “It is up to us as citizens to rebuild the world that we want. I think that this crisis has exposed some of the gaps around the world, particularly in the United States,” she explained, pointing to gender and racial inequality. “Women do 2.5 times more work at home than men do,” she said, highlighting the unpaid responsibilities of child care and housework.
The discussion also shines a light on opportunities that have emerged during the pandemic. Among them is the potential for online education once technology is more equitably spread. Digital banking was also an area that needed to be explored as a way to make money management more easily accessible, particularly in the developing world.
From the Series