COVID-19 a ‘defining moment’ of this generation, says Bill Gates [videos]

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released its annual letter – “after a year unlike any other in our lifetimes” – on Wednesday 27 January 2021. In it, they discussed planning for the next pandemic, as well as vaccine advancements.

“History will probably remember these last couple of months as the most painful point of the entire pandemic. But hope is on the horizon.

The couple also wrote that despite there being a long road ahead of us, “the world has achieved some significant victories against the virus in the form of new tests, treatments, and vaccines”. 

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation annual letter highlights

Bill Gates ‘optimistic’ that end is in sight

Bill and Melinda said they are “we are optimistic that the end of the beginning [of the COVID-19 pandemic] is near”. However, they remain “realistic about what it takes to get here”.

The foundation said it was only possible through the commitment and teamwork required to get through the “largest public health effort in history”. It involved policymakers, researchers, healthcare workers, business leaders, grassroots organizers, religious communities, “and so many others working together in new ways”.

“That kind of shared effort is important because in a global crisis like this one, you don’t want companies making decisions driven by a profit motive or governments acting with the narrow goal of protecting only their own citizens. You need a lot of different people and interests coming together in goodwill to benefit all of humanity”.

Gates said their foundation and its partners “pivoted to meet the challenges of COVID-19”, remarking that understanding and tackling the virus “was an essential part of any global health work in 2020. The couple now calls on the governments of the world (and rich countries) to do their part.

Prepare for the next pandemic

Bill said he’d been asked when, according to him, the world would “return to normal”. And while he understands the sentiments, he feels that it is “not too soon to start thinking about the next pandemic” either.

“We all want to return to the way things were before COVID-19. But there’s one area where I hope we never go back: our complacency about pandemics. The unfortunate reality is that COVID-19 might not be the last pandemic”. 

We cannot predict when the next pandemic will strike, but we cannot afford to “flat-footed again” when it does. He reminds readers that the threat of a next pandemic will always be over our heads, “unless the world takes steps to prevent it”.

Despite being wholly unprepared for the current pandemic, Gates said humanity still benefitted “from actions taken in response to past pandemics”, such as the Ebola epidemic. In the same manner, this pandemic somewhat prepared us for the next.

Survival through scientific breakthroughs

Financial backing will be needed to prepare for the next pandemic, and Gates say the bulk of it “needs to come from rich countries”. He said that “the tools and systems created to stop pathogens in their tracks need to span the globe, including in low- and middle-income countries”.

Gates said that governments should also continue to “invest in the scientific tools that are getting us through this current pandemic”. New scientific breakthroughs will “give us a leg up the next time a new disease emerges”.

“It took months to get enough testing capacity for COVID-19 in the United States. But it’s possible to build up diagnostics that can be deployed very quickly. By the next pandemic, I’m hopeful we’ll have what I call mega-diagnostic platforms, which could test as much as 20% of the global population every week”.

COVID-19 research
A health worker prepares an injection of a vaccine in Rennes, France on 18 January 2021 during a COVID-19 vaccination campaign for people over 75. Photo: AFP/Damien Meyer

Vaccine advancements

The couple said it’s “pretty remarkable” that COVID-19 vaccines are already becoming available, “especially considering that COVID-19 was a virtually unknown pathogen at the beginning of 2020 and how rigorous the process is for proving a vaccine’s safety and efficacy”. 

“It’s important that people understand that even though these vaccines were developed on an expedited timeline, they still had to meet strict guidelines before being approved”.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations believes we’ve “unlock a new era in vaccine development”, and vows to support efforts to find and distribute safe and effective vaccines.

Watch: A COVID-19 vaccine explained

They added, though, that “creating safe and effective vaccines in a laboratory is only the beginning of the story”, explaining that the world still needs billions of doses in order to protect everyone.

Bill expects to see “huge advances  over the next five years in our ability to develop new vaccines”. He adds: “I predict that mRNA vaccines will become faster to develop, easier to scale, and more stable to store over the next five to ten years”. 

“That would be a huge breakthrough, both for future pandemics and for other global health challenges. mRNA vaccines are a promising platform for diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. “.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation annual letter can be read in its entirety here.

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Presh JM Reporter

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