In June, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $1.6 billion, five-year pledge to Gavi, a global vaccine alliance, to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to children living in the world’s poorest countries. But Bill Gates says, in order to really stem the pandemic, the U.S. government needs to pay for the global distribution of vaccines as well and include it in the second coronavirus stimulus bill—if there’s ever one coming.
“The U.S. is a generous giver to Gavi…All the U.S. has to do is make a special allocation to Gavi to procure [COVID-19] vaccines,” the philanthropist said in an interview during Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit on Monday. “In fact, some of the bills in Congress…have had sums of money for that international response. So we’re hopeful that when there is a stimulus bill, it will include this money to buy vaccines for the poor countries.”
Gates stressed that funding vaccine distribution would be a tiny item compared with other hotly debated economic stimulus measures, but it could go a long way in restoring our nation’s broken reputation in international public health.
“The portion of resources required to do that is less than 1 percent of the stimulus bill, and it’ll just be amongst the various measures to help out there,” Gates said. “That would be in alignment with the U.S.’ past history of being very generous and playing a leadership role in global health.”
Unfortunately, the White House is too busy to worry about vaccine accessibility in other countries right now. In fact, the Trump administration has declined to participate in the COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access) Initiative, an international initiated led by the World Health Organization aiming to speed vaccine development and distribute them to all countries. Instead, the U.S. is prioritizing making vaccines available to American people first. The administration has committed more than $5 billion to a handful of U.S. and European vaccine developers, promising to buy millions of doses as soon as their vaccines are ready.
Yet, that’s not enough to end the pandemic. “As long as this disease exists anywhere in the world, the chance of reinfection will always be there,” Gates said. “So we need to participate for our own self-interest, for humanitarian reasons and for strategic reasons.”
As the cold weather sets in, we are already seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. Last Friday, daily new cases hit an all-time high of 85,000. All told, the nation has suffered more than 8.44 million COVID-19 cases and 223,000 deaths as of last Friday.
“The amount of time you spend indoors, the fact that people are not getting clear messages and they’re tired of the restrictions, and the fact that, as it gets colder, your upper respiratory tract doesn’t do a good job of suppressing the virus…all those things are working against us as we go into the fall,” Gates said.
Gates has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, especially the government-paid testing system. While it helps make testing accessible to a larger population, the results don’t come back the same day, which in many cases defies the purpose of testing itself.
“It’s such a waste of money and it’s helping to drive lots of infection because you don’t hear your result until well after you’ve infected other people,” Gates said on Monday. “They should run the headline every day, U.S. testing system worst in the world, delayed results being paid for.”