Microsoft’s billionaire co-founder Bill Gates volunteered to take a COVID-19 vaccine publicly and said that President Donald Trump‘s “America first” approach is “selfish,” given that U.S. vaccines benefited from foreign scientists.
Gates downplayed Operation Warp Speed’s role in pushing companies to develop a U.S. vaccine safely in record time, telling CNN Sunday the first two mRNA vaccines have had “backing for quite some time.” The billionaire said Pfizer and Gates Foundation partner BioNTech “did not take government money” and that Moderna received financial support before the creation of Operation Warp Speed, back when it was “just called BARDA,” or Biomedical Advanced Research and Development.
Gates described how international scientific efforts from German companies and foreign scientists aided the development of the first U.S. vaccines, and he said distribution should be “based on medical need, not wealth at all.”
“We want the world economy to be going. We want to minimize the deaths. And, you know, the basic technology is a German company. And so blocking international sharing and cooperation has been disruptive and a mistake during this entire pandemic,” Gates said, referencing how German biotechnology company BioNTech is behind the creation of the record-setting COVID-19 vaccine, which was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week.
“We need to ramp up the capacity of all the vaccines. There will be some additional ones approved in the months ahead that are easier to scale up the manufacturing. But the U.S. has benefited from other countries’ work care, and we shouldn’t be entirely selfish in how we go forward,” Gates added.
CNN host Jake Tapper asked Gates if he believes Trump’s unclear executive order prioritizing distribution of the vaccines to Americans before other countries is the wrong approach to the pandemic response.
“I think we need to help all of humanity here. The extreme idea that everybody should die until we have the very last American vaccinated, that’s hardly the appropriate response,” Gates said, noting he doesn’t believe any one vaccine is better than another.
He added, “I’m super happy with all of these vaccines” being produced by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.
BioNTech CEO Dr. Ugur Sahin told The Wall Street Journal last month he’s “anxious and in focus mode,” as the world’s scientists prepare for what’s next in eliminating coronavirus. The previous record for the development of a vaccine was four years, but the COVID-19 vaccines produced in partnership with his Mainz, Germany-based company managed to create in a matter of just months.
Gates said the U.S. and other governments have a “real communications challenge” in ensuring Americans choose to get vaccinated. But he’s hopeful that the rollout will gradually be met with a lower death rate and a reduction in transmission “to people you care about,” which will boost trust in the process.
“For some jobs, like working in a nursing home, the government could decide that it’s important for those people to be vaccinated, because that will save a lot of lives. And so the track record will be developed, and I think we will get over the 70 percent that should reduce the transmission dramatically,” Gates said.
The billionaire tech entrepreneur said distribution should be super honed in on helping those in medical need, and not at all based on a recipients’ wealth. He volunteered to get publicly vaccinated as former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have already said they will do to reinforce trust.
“I will visibly take the vaccine, because I think that it’s a benefit to all people to not be transmitting,” Gates said.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last week announced they are donating an additional $250 million to helping fight COVID-19, on top of the $1 billion dollars the organization has already put forth in recent months.
Newsweek reached out to the Gates Foundation as well as the White House Sunday afternoon for additional remarks about the vaccine rollout.