Bill Gates. Picture: REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS
Bill Gates. Picture: REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS

London  — Rich countries could be back to close to normal by late 2021 if a Covid-19 vaccine works, is ready soon and distributed properly at scale, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said on Tuesday.

"By late next year you can have things going back pretty close to normal — that's the best case," Gates told The Wall Street Journal CEO Council.

"We still don't know whether these vaccines will succeed," Gates said. "Now the capacity will take time to ramp up. And so the allocation within the US, and between the US and other countries will be a very top point of contention."

Covid-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca/Oxford University are two of the leading candidates in the race to be first to get regulatory approval in the West.

The head of the World Health Organisation said on Tuesday that a vaccine against Covid-19 may be ready by the end of the year.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also called for solidarity and political commitment by all leaders to ensure equal distribution of vaccines when they become available.

"We will need vaccines and there is hope that by the end of this year we may have a vaccine. There is hope," Tedros said in final remarks to the WHO's executive board meeting, without elaborating.

Gates, who made a fortune from Microsoft, has since given $36bn to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which aims to tackle extreme poverty and poor health care.

In September, the foundation signed an agreement with 16 pharmaceutical companies, which Gates said committed them to scaling up manufacturing at an unprecedented speed, and making sure that approved vaccines reach broad distribution as early as possible.

Vaccine race

Russia has pushed ahead with its Covid-19 vaccine with mass public vaccinations alongside the main human trial, raising concerns among some observers that it was prioritising national prestige over solid science and safety.

"We're also talking with Russia and China," Gates said. "None of their vaccines are in a phase three trial with a highly regarded regulator overseeing that trial."

Gates said that from a scientific point of view the Russian and Chinese vaccines were perfectly valid projects but the absence of a well-respected phase three study could limit their attractiveness outside their respective countries.

"The Western companies are further ahead on doing these studies and so if those come out well and they're offered at low cost, I doubt there'll be a lot of Russian or Chinese vaccines going outside of those countries," he said.

Gates added that in the US people should be thinking about ways to reduce hesitancy about having a Covid-19 vaccine when one is ready.

"You know, here in the US, we should already be thinking about which voices will help reduce the hesitancy. And so we can get a level of vaccination that really has a chance of stopping (it)."

Asked who did best at balancing the competing health and economic needs, Gates said: "South Korea, Australia — because this is an exponential event, a little bit of intelligence early on makes a huge difference," he said.


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