Bill Gates expressed confidence that a coronavirus vaccine will be available by 2021. However, he remains concerned about the failure of doses to be made available to lower-income groups, especially in less developed countries.
On a conference call, Gates told reporters that the "next big question" his foundation is considering is the manufacture and distribution of vaccines to those most in need. "It shouldn't just be the rich countries that win a bidding war," he said. "Mismatching the vaccine would cause dramatic additional deaths."
Wealthy countries, including the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom, have pre-ordered more than 2 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines, which could result in limited supplies in the coming year. However, international efforts are being made to ensure that poorer countries continue to have access to the vaccine, which is led by groups like the World Health Organization.
Without a vaccine, the coronavirus could do more to harm the prospects of vulnerable populations. A new report entitled "The Goalkeepers Report," released Monday by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, examines how the world has already regressed due to Covid-19 and global poverty is increasing in many countries.
The report cites Northeastern University models that predict twice as many people could die from Covid-19 if richer countries hoarded the first 2 billion doses of vaccine rather than distributing them fairly. The report also found that the pandemic was having a disproportionate impact on women, racial and ethnic minorities, and people living in extreme poverty.
"The pandemic has worsened inequality in almost every dimension. Poor countries suffer far more than richer countries because of a lack of fiscal resources," Gates told reporters on Friday before the report was released. He added that many workers in developing countries cannot simply work from home and are generally paid less.
By the end of August, more than 170 countries had expressed an interest in joining the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility [COVAX], which aims to work with vaccine manufacturers to provide "equitable access to safe and effective vaccines" for countries and those most at risk Protect individuals from populations such as the elderly and healthcare workers. The aim is to deliver 2 billion approved Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of 2021 by scaling the production and purchasing offerings.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a founding partner and donor of the global vaccine alliance Gavi, which, alongside the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations [CEPI], leads the COVAX initiative.
However, the Trump administration said in early September it would not join the effort. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo downplayed the nation's absence from the initiative, saying, "There is no nation more willing and more committed to delivering vaccines around the world than the United States of America."
Even so, Gates didn't say on-demand that wealthy countries like the United States shouldn't put capacity aside and prioritize cans for their people. "I don't think this is inconsistent," he noted, adding that the United States has given ample funding to vaccine development.
But the US could do more to ensure that vaccines are distributed more fairly and equitably. Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who heads the Trump administration's Operation War Speed vaccination initiative, told NPR in an interview earlier this month that he is "firmly" convinced that a vaccine for people in risk groups will be available before the end of the year. Still, many officials, including White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, predicted that a Covid-19 vaccine will not be available to Americans for "several months" in 2021.
"The only thing the United States hasn't done yet, but I'm very confident it will devote significant resources to sourcing vaccines and other drugs and diagnostics for the pandemic," said Gates.
"If you combined that with your research and development funding and made it easier to make the vaccines in many factories, you would have the full picture there," Gates said. "So no one is saying that … there shouldn't be any credit for where the trials were done, where the R&D funds came from. To solve this problem, that capacity has to be as large as possible."