Microsoft founder Bill Gates has urged rich countries to put “a few per cent” of their gross domestic product towards finding and distributing a Covid-19 vaccine, highlighting a potentially huge shortfall in current investment levels.
In a video interview with the Financial Times, Mr Gates said that despite the economic strain developed countries were under, there was a “compelling” case to spend tens of billions of dollars to support the manufacturing and distribution of a vaccine that would also be accessible for the poorest countries.
“When you’re talking about making it easier to not have infection coming back into your country, you can make both a humanitarian and a self-interested argument that even a few per cent [of GDP] going against that for the rich countries would be a wise investment,” Mr Gates said.
The co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said: “Everybody’s dealing with an immense number of priorities. Then again, they’ve decided to not operate under the normal fiscal constraints.”
The UK has contributed £250m to efforts by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (Cepi) to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. The Gates Foundation was one of the creators of Cepi.
Canada, Germany and Norway are among the other countries funding Cepi’s search for a vaccine, with pledges totalling $690m. Cepi, which is an alliance of governments, the private sector and charities, is running eight Covid-19 vaccine development projects and has made an urgent appeal for $2bn for this research.
While the US government has not given money directly to Cepi’s Covid-19 vaccine project, it has put almost half a billion dollars towards Johnson & Johnson’s search for a vaccine, and struck a deal with Moderna for an undisclosed amount. Moderna is one of the companies with which Cepi has a Covid-19 vaccine development project.
Another $27bn from the US’s $2.2tn coronavirus stimulus package has been earmarked for “bolstering life-saving capabilities, including developing vaccines and the development, purchase, and distribution of critical supplies”.
That $27bn and the J&J deal would put US government funding to develop a vaccine at 0.13 per cent of the country’s 2019 GDP.
In the private sector, several companies are racing to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, including Sanofi, GSK, Pfizer and British American Tobacco. German biotech groups BioNTech and CureVac are also working on potential vaccines.
Mr Gates said it was vital for rich countries to support the developing world’s fight against the virus. “The impact of those dollars on helping things not completely deteriorate, helping hold things together, helping accelerate that vaccine manufacturer — I think the case on that will be compelling.”
Mr Gates has previously warned that the world was not ready to fight a highly infectious virus. He told the FT that lessons would be learned from the Covid-19 crisis and countries would prepare more in the future.
“There’s no doubt, having paid many trillions of dollars more than we might have had to if we’d been properly ready, people will [prepare]. Because it affected the rich countries . . . we’ve been whacked on the head.”
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