Bill Gates on Covid Vaccine Timing, Hydroxychloroquine, and That 5G Conspiracy Theory

(Bloomberg) – Bill Gates, the Microsoft Corp. co-founder and billionaire philanthropist, has become, for better and worse, a central character in the story of Covid-19.

The good news: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged more than $350 million to fight the disease, including funds for vaccine manufacturing efforts at AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax.

The bad news: Gates has been vilified by anti-vaxxers and other conspiracy theorists who claim he seeded the virus for his own nefarious purposes.

Gates says he’s optimistic about the world’s chances of seeing through the wilder theories and of beating the coronavirus, too. His remarks have been condensed and edited for clarity.

How confident are you we’ll have a working vaccine that can be widely distributed by the end of 2020?

Well, the initial vaccine won’t be ideal in terms of its effectiveness against sickness and transmission. It may not have a long duration, and it will mainly be used in rich countries as a stopgap measure.

We’d be lucky to have much before the end of the year. But then, in 2021, a number of other vaccines are very likely to get approved. The strongest response will probably come from the protein subunit. With so many companies working on it, we can afford quite a few failures and still have something with low cost and long duration.

For years, people have said if anti-vaxxers had lived through a pandemic, the way their grandparents did, they’d think differently. Whoops.

The two times I’ve been to the White House [since 2016], I was told I had to go listen to anti-vaxxers like Robert Kennedy Jr. So, yes, it’s ironic that people are questioning vaccines and we’re actually having to say, “Oh, my God, how else can you get out of a tragic pandemic?”

Given the skepticism, should a Covid vaccine be mandatory?

Making something mandatory can often backfire. But you might say that if you’re going to work in an old-folks home or have any exposure to elderly people, it would be required.

What do you make of the conspiracy theories that you’re pursuing vaccine research to control people’s minds using 5G radio waves and so on?

It’s strange. They take the fact that I’m involved with vaccines and they just reverse it, so instead of giving money to save lives, I’m making money to get rid of lives. If that stops people from taking a vaccine or looking at the latest data about wearing a mask, then it’s a big problem.

What about the conversation around hydroxychloroquine, which the White House has promoted despite its repeatedly being shown to be ineffective and, in fact, to cause heart problems in some patients?

This is an age of science, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. In the test tube, hydroxychloroquine looked good. On the other hand, there are lots of good therapeutic drugs coming that are proven to work without the severe side effects.

We’ve seen the U.S. and other countries buying up vaccine supplies even before they’re approved. Is that harmful?

We need cooperation within countries and between countries. The U.S. as yet has not helped come up with procurement money for poor countries. We’ve funded more research and development than any country, but on factories and procurement, we’ve only taken care of ourselves. Every call I’m on with the pharma leaders and the leaders of countries is with the goal of, “Hey, we need everybody to be protected.”

How do you think this all ends?

The innovations in therapeutics will start to cut the death rate, but the true end will come from the spread of natural infections and the vaccine giving us herd immunity. For rich countries, that will be sometime next year, ideally in the first half. We’ll get out of this by the end of 2021.

So we’re going to be OK?

Certainly. We’re lucky this one wasn’t a more fatal disease.