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2022 vision: Gates on when the pandemic could end

Copyright: lembi / 123RF Stock Photo
Headquarters of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, U.S.. Image credit: lembi / 123RF Stock Photo

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has said the COVID-19 pandemic could well end in 2022 – on the proviso that “we do a brilliant job.”

In an interview with Surojit Gupta of Times News Network, Gates said “if we do a brilliant job, we end the pandemic in 2022. If we are lucky to have a lot of good vaccines that are made in volume, I am sure the health system should be able to get back fairly quickly. But the economic damage, particularly in countries that couldn’t borrow huge additional sums like some of the rich countries, will have big setbacks. Some of the extreme poverty-type things could take us five to ten years to get back to where we were at the start of 2020.” 

Gates has been a visible presence during the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or simply coronavirus. His charitable organisation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has invested heavily in the fight against COVID-19 – especially in terms of the race for a vaccine against the novel coronavirus. 

As far as India – a country where Gates’s foundation has worked extensively – the philanthropist told Gupta “I am not an expert on the Indian epidemic. India’s got high-density cities. People don’t have big houses. A lot of the work is not the kind of office work that’s easily done over an internet connection. So, the very difficult tradeoffs of what you do in terms of economic activity versus trying to stop the disease spread. If the fall is as tough as many of the models are predicting, you have tough challenges.”

In terms of vaccine development and distribution, he added, “India has a huge role to play in that because the highest volume vaccine manufacturers in the world, including Serum, BioE, Bharat (Biotech) — they have capacity. We have been in lots of conversations with the companies with the vaccines that look like they will be low-cost and very scalable, including AstraZeneca, Novavax, Sanofi, and Johnson & Johnson. 

“All of those, if they succeed in their Phase III, we want to be able to ramp up that manufacturing capacity. By early next year, of the leading, say, six vaccines, probably three of them will work. I think most of the world will want a vaccine that’s been reviewed by a top-notch regulator — generally, the USFDA, or Europe, or UK. If we can get these western vaccines through partnerships, particularly with India, into high volume; if we can get the money to procure them for even the poorest countries, I think the western vaccines will be used overwhelmingly.” 

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