In 2017, Bill Gates penned an op-ed for Business Insider, warning that our public health infrastructure as it was would not be able to handle crises such as a global pandemic. That worst-case scenario became a reality two years later. With COVID-19 ravaging the world for over a year and governments investing in treatment and vaccination efforts like never before, you might think we are well prepared for the next pandemic.
That’s not true, unfortunately, according to the Gates Foundation’s 2021 Goalkeepers report, an annual publication tracking progress toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
This year’s report, released late Monday, shows how the pandemic has worsened inequality globally in the past year.
“Every dimension of inequity—rich versus poor in the U.S., inner city schools versus suburban schools, Blacks versus Caucasians, rich countries versus middle-income versus low-income [countries]—this has exacerbated every dimension of inequity that I can think of,” Gates said in an interview with STAT, published Monday.
In 2020, an additional 10 million children around the world didn’t get key childhood vaccines because of public health service disruptions, the 2021 Goalkeepers report found. More than 30 million more people ended the year in extreme poverty.
“The extreme poverty number in some ways is the most depressing number,” Gates said. “And global trade, tourism into the low-income countries—all of those things, there’ll still be some lower level of activity for several years to come.”
Gates had predicted in early 2020 that the pandemic could end sometime in the second half of 2021 with ample supply of vaccines. We have several highly effective vaccines now and sufficient supply at least in the developed world, yet there’s no end in sight. One of the reasons, Gates said, is the uneven distribution of vaccines: rich countries have too much supply yet a low demand due to vaccine hesitancy, while poor countries don’t have access to enough vaccines.
“It’s still embarrassing that even though we were at the front of the line for all the vaccines, yet because of demand issues, the U.S. is well behind most of the Western European countries at this point,” he told STAT.
In a separate interview with The Wall Street Journal Monday, Gates said he’s “worried that the attention to pandemic preparedness is lower than I would have expected.”
An ideal response plan, he said, would require the ability to make a vaccine in 100 days and manufacture enough for the entire world in the next 100 days after that.
“That is doable,” he told the Journal, adding that the Biden administration’s new $65 billion proposal to strengthen pandemic preparedness is a step in the right direction.
The Goalkeepers report is published annually by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, co-run by the Microsoft cofounder and his ex-wife, Melinda French Gates.