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Bill Gates says US can avoid a 'fall wave' of COVID-19

Ben Werschkul
·Senior Producer and Writer
·4 min read
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Over 72 million coronavirus vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and over 40 million Americans have gotten at least one shot so far as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. is on its way — Bill Gates says — toward a return to normalcy later this year if we keep it up.

“I'd still say by the fall, the U.S., particularly if we can get the message out to encourage wide acceptance of the vaccine, will avoid a fall wave,” he told Yahoo Finance in an interview Wednesday.

Gates, the former Microsoft (MSFT) CEO and author of a new book, "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” spoke with Yahoo Finance’s editor-in-chief, Andy Serwer, for a wide-ranging conversation this week.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates speaks during an interview at the fringes of the Reinvented Toilet Expo showcasing sewerless sanitation technology in Beijing, China November 6, 2018.  REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Microsoft founder Bill Gates speaks during an interview in 2018. (REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

During another conversation with Serwer in October, Gates offered a more muted outlook for the pandemic in the U.S. He said the U.S. was on pace where “by summer, we're in a very different place than we are today.” Still, he added, “The slowness on the global response means that, you know, fall 2021 won’t be completely back to normal.”

In his latest interview, Gates attributed his increased optimism to the progress in the last four months on vaccine development and distribution. “The only negative news since then,” he says, “is the rise of the variants.”

‘Most of vaccine constructs work well’

While he made his billions as the co-founder of Microsoft, Gates has spent the last two decades as a public health advocate and philanthropist. He gave a prescient TED talk in 2014 titled, “The next outbreak? We’re not ready” that predicted many aspects of the pandemic in the last year. Since the outbreak, Gates has weighed in on COVID-19 frequently and contributed significantly to the response through the Gates Foundation.

In the past, Gates and others have cited a 70% vaccination rate as an important threshold to where normal life can resume for the approximately 330 million people who live in the U.S. In December, The New York Times reported that Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, has cited an even higher percentage of people who might need to be vaccinated to achieve so-called herd immunity — up to 80%.

In either case, hundreds of millions of vaccine shots still need to be administered in the coming months to help life return back to normal.

President Joe Biden, during a town hall in Wisconsin on Tuesday, also offered up 70% as a key figure and expressed a hope that “by next Christmas, I think we'll be in a very different circumstance, God-willing, than we are today.” But he quickly added, “I don't want to over promise anything here.” He also said that by this fall it’s likely that the country will be in a significantly better position than it is today.

Biden has also said that vaccines will be available for all Americans by the end of this July with a lag coming between availability and when they are actually administered, take effect, and contribute towards herd immunity.

Now we need to help the whole world’

For his part, Gates has focused largely on getting the rest of the world vaccinated. During the October conversation, he said that “as long as this disease exists anywhere in the world, the chance of reinfection will always be there.”

This week, Gates noted that the more communicable variants of the virus, which Gates Foundation researchers were among the first to detect in South Africa, are “going to extend things a bit.”

Gates’s view is that the most widely known vaccines so far — from Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA) — will largely be used for the richer world. Meanwhile, three other vaccines in various stages of approval from Novavax (NVAX), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), and AstraZeneca (AZN) will be important for huge swaths of the developing world because of their cheaper costs to manufacture and less onerous storage needs.

Bill Gates and his wife Melinda cuddle two babies Samuel Baltazar (R)
and Ires Mahnica during his visit to the Manhica Health Research Centre
in Mozambique September 21, 2003. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
announced three grants on Sunday totaling 168 USD million to fight
malaria. The disease, due to increased drug resistance, is on rise in
Africa for the first time in 20 years and kills more than one million
people annually. REUTERS/Juda Ngwenya
Bill Gates and his wife Melinda during a visit to Mozambique in 2003. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent billions over recent decades to fight disease in Africa and around the world. (REUTERS/Juda Ngwenya)

The suite of vaccines have, so far, still shown the ability to combat the different coronavirus variants. But Gates sees a flexible rollout coming in different countries — some people may end up getting three doses, while others may mix vaccines, according to Gates.

“This will surprise people,” Gates said of the possibility of some people taking doses from different manufacturers. Trials are still ongoing to test the efficacy of that approach.

As of December, the Gates Foundation’s contribution to fighting the coronavirus stood at $1.75 billion towards everything from buying protective equipment to helping the vaccine distribution. Gates has also been involved in spurring the U.S. government to contribute additional billions to the worldwide vaccine effort.

“I'm optimistic that the pieces are coming into place,” he said of the worldwide rollout so far.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

Read more:

Bill Gates says Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's explanation for power outages is 'actually wrong'

Bill Gates led effort to get $3.36 billion into the coronavirus deal to help vaccinate world's poor

Bill Gates on COVID-19: 'Fall 2021 won't be completely back to normal' (From October 2020)

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