- Melinda Gates says the world will be permanently changed by the coronavirus
- Gates said she believes it will take 18 months for a vaccine to become available
- Says the pandemic is not a once-in-a-century situation like the Spanish flu
- Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID
Gates and her husband Bill chair the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which has already donated more than $45 billion towards vaccination research in the hope of tackling pandemics including coronavirus and Ebola.
She and her husband have long spoken about the fears of a pandemic and had warned that the world was not prepared to respond at a global level.
Speaking to Business Insider, the billionaire philanthropist says she believes the only way the planet will go back to ‘normal’ would be through a vaccine which would take around 18 months.
‘Just from everything we know from working with our partners for many, many years on vaccines, you have to test the compounds. Then, you have to go into preclinical trials, then full-scale trials. Still by the time you get it through the trials safety and efficacy wise, then you have to manufacture the vaccine and manufacture at scale. So, I think it really is 18 months,’ Gates said.
18 months appears to be a realistic timeline and is how long it took for an effective Ebola vaccine to be created.
‘The good news that I’m seeing on that front though is so many scientists are coming forward, and I’m seeing CEOs come forward and say, “I have this platform we can use.” Pharmaceutical companies are coming together already to say, “How do we build up the manufacturing capacity so it’s there when we get a vaccine and we can basically just run it through the manufacturing process?” So, I’m seeing lots of good things come forward, but it’s a process that needs to run its full course because you don’t want to put something in someone’s body that is harmful.
As reported by Mail Online, in one part of the lengthy interview, Gates contemplates a worrying thought – that scientists may not be able to create an effective vaccine for coronavirus.
‘It’s possible we may not, but we have to look at how far science has come even in the last five years. And the number of compounds we have, there’s something like 14,000 compounds that we, with our partners alone have. And we have high throughput screening now of compounds. So, I really think we’re going to find a vaccine,’ Gates reassures.
‘We found a vaccine for Ebola, right? And we did that in about an 18-month time frame, and that was hard. So when I see the scientific community all coming together the way they are around the globe and sharing data and sharing information, we’re going to get a vaccine.’
Some scientists had touted the ides of herd immunity which would require almost 70 per cent of the population to have had the disease.
Gates doesn’t believe such a theory is a sensible one and could lead to a lot of deaths.
‘You don’t get herd immunity until you have a huge percent of your population that has had the disease. We know that from all the diseases in the past that humans have had. So no, we’re still a long way from herd immunity. And you can’t count on that because a lot of people are going to die in the meantime. That’s why it’s so important to remind people the only tools we have today are physical distancing, handwashing, and wearing masks in public. So, we have to go with what we know works.’
Once a vaccine has been developed, Gates believes health workers should be first in line to receive it before those in high-risk groups are offered the jab.
She also believes that it should be distributed equally to countries around the world and not simply to the wealthy.
‘We have to make sure that the vaccine is very low priced and that there’s a fund for buying it for everyone, whether you’re in a low, middle, or a high income country. And that’s doable,’ Gates says.
‘But we also have to distribute very carefully. So, the very first people that need to get this vaccine are health care workers because if you can keep them safe, they can help keep others safe. Then, you need to distribute it to the people who are the very most vulnerable. That is, they have underlying health conditions, some of the ones that we’ve talked about before. And from there, you then make it distributed completely equitably across society.’
Gates, like other scientists, believes that there could well be a second wave of coronavirus in the fall.
She believes that if there is another pandemic or resurgence of the viral that mass testing from the start along with contact tracing so that people who have been tested are able to see where they have been and who they interacted with.
‘We need to listen to the medical experts and the science experts. They know what’s real. We need to do the disease modeling to see where the outbreaks are going and then, we need to do massive testing. We have to have testing at wide scale so that you can get a test and you can know if you’re positive. And if you’re positive, then you self-isolate,’ Gates says.
As for coronavirus being a one-off, Gates believes such a prospect to be remote and says there will ‘absolutely’ be more pandemics in our lifetime.
She doesn’t believe that coronavirus is a once-in-a-century occurrence like the Spanish flu which struck in 1918.
‘This is not a once in a century pandemic. We are absolutely going to have more of these. This thing is highly infectious, COVID-19. But it is not nearly as infectious as measles. And we dealt with measles in the world. We know how to deal with measles. We’re going to see more, so we need to plan for them. And we haven’t planned for them as a global community,’ Gates notes.
‘We will see more pandemics because of all kinds of reasons, but mainly because we’re a global community and we travel and we spread disease. I definitely think there are going to be things that are permanently changed. Our psyches are going to be permanently changed and I hope we change to realize that we’re a global community.
‘As to the question of when does society reopen in what we think of as our normal form, nobody really knows the answer to that. It really is when we get a vaccine at scale.’