Ah, 2015. While it would be remiss to call it a simpler time — what with ISIS in Syria, the Greek debt crisis, and Uptown Funk hitting Billboard’s #1 spot — we sure weren’t too preoccupied with discussions about vaccines, masks, and the greatest epidemic in modern history. However, a few people were, the most […]
Ah, 2015. While it would be remiss to call it a simpler time — what with ISIS in Syria, the Greek debt crisis, and Uptown Funk hitting Billboard’s #1 spot — we sure weren’t too preoccupied with discussions about vaccines, masks, and the greatest epidemic in modern history.
However, a few people were, the most high-profile amongst them being Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The tech entrepreneur and mega-investor held a TED talk back then, ominously titled Bill Gates: The Next Outbreak? We’re Not Ready:
While it may be one of the most extreme examples of ‘I told you so’ ever observed, Bill seems to have taken his prediction very seriously since the pandemic began, conducting a fair bit of independent research on how to prevent a recurrence.
Here’s a quick primer on all of Bill Gates’ ideas in his all-new book How to Prevent the Next Pandemic, and also why you should probably take the world’s fourth richest man’s advice with plenty of salt.
Much of Gates’ new theory of pandemic prevention lies in the nature of airborne pandemics: they spread quickly, effectively, and have so far shown an excellent track record of taking advantage of humans taking their own sweet time.
It’s for this reason that Gates’ multifaceted solution targets three key ideas — early detection, intense and rapid development of treatments and vaccines, and creating a solidly-trained population drilled in pandemic management.
It’s here where Bill Gates takes a more unusual approach. While the first two ideas are glaringly obvious, and perhaps a bit preachy at this point, Gates asks a pertinent question about the men and women held responsible for handling a pandemic; while national armies and emergency services generally deal with contained issues in specific areas, viruses don’t quite work that way. Blind to borders, nationalities, and most other governmental constructs, a pandemic doesn’t play by the same rules. This means we need a system in place that changes the game.
The solution? Gates advocates the development of an international ‘task-force’ of sorts — a contingent of around 3,000 experts recruited from around the world, all organized around a variety of skill sets ranging from epidemiology and genetics, drug and vaccine development and computer modeling, to diplomacy and more. By working on every possible front of pandemic management, it’s (apparently) only such a team that can work on dismantling rampant new diseases before, well, we see a repeat of 2020.
There’s an obvious parallel here to the superhero squads we all know and love. Gates surmises that his team will operate under the World Health Organization, biding time and staying alert for any potential signs of another global health crisis, while also coordinating infrastructure development between the world’s nations.
While the Avengers or the Justice League have a pretty great ring to them, Gates proposes the much less exciting GERM: Global Epidemic Response and Mobilization. (We bet old Bill definitely patted himself on the back for thinking that one up.)
According to his estimates, GERM will cost about $1B per year to run — about 0.75 percent of Gates’ total net worth. A chunk of this money will go towards the several next-generation health solutions Gates has surmised in his book.
These range from case studies on rapid mass-population testing services, to nasal spray drugs for airborne pathogens, and even new temperature-controlled storage solutions for vaccines — a topic of particular interest for warm nations like India where several thousand dosages were wasted as a result of unregulated temperatures while in transit.
By the end of the book, Gates’ narrative evolves into a passionate rally for broad-spectrum vaccination — eradicating several key diseases from the planet and establishing a new era of health and wellness for the human race.
While we respect the ideals here… perhaps we should take Bill Gates’ words with a healthy dose of skepticism. Funnily enough, he actually applies this towards the world’s wealthiest countries, while conveniently skipping over the fact that he’s worth over $130 billion.
“Many people in rich countries were shocked by the world’s unequal response to Covid,” he writes. “Not because it was out of the ordinary but because health inequities are not visible to them the rest of the time. Through Covid — a condition the whole world was experiencing—everyone could see how unequal the resources are.”
Gates is pretty bang-on here, although he seems to be missing the point of his own commentary. The book does touch upon the connection between economic inequality and pandemic figures but rarely does anything to discuss the core issues here, and what caused them. For the most part, our author believes that these inequalities are a result of weak solutions and mismanagement, a problem that he believes can be solved with the ‘power of the private sector to drive innovation.’
This isn’t surprising in the least. As the poster-child of the ’90s tech bubble, Gates’ own career owes much of its success to private-sector innovation and competitiveness. As Whizy Kim writes for Vox, “Our economic system has richly rewarded him — in his experience and from his vantage point, it’s harder to see how that system could be an engine of misery.”
While it’s perhaps a bit cliché to cry ‘capitalism’ two years after the fact, the numbers don’t lie here: the same systems that rose Gates to the top and kept him there resulted in millions of deaths, disproportionately affecting low income groups. The first signs were the clear lines between ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ workers — for the most part, the healthcare, food, and teaching sectors.
The workers in these industries are routinely underpaid and overworked even in normal conditions. With longer hours of exposure and fewer resources to coast by, their rising death tolls during the pandemic came as a grisly reminder of the cost of staying alive for millions of people, in America and across the world.
Gates himself admits that he’s gotten significantly wealthier during the pandemic with his net worth rising by over 30 percent since 2018. He calls this ‘unfair’ and pushes a rising commitment to philanthropy as his go-to. There’s nothing new here — the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated the most money in the world, period.
What if we suggested that this is less of a donation, and more of a tax Gates pays in order to maintain the status quo? It’s a question tied directly into his contrasting image between ruthless businessman to benevolent philanthropist, and we’re going to explore the former a little over here.
For starters, several activists, journalists, and laypeople think that Gates isn’t quite the tech-knight in shining armor he used to be in the 2000s. We’re not even addressing the Melinda-Bill divorce issues, the sexual misconduct allegations, or even his close association with Jeffrey Epstein. What we are a bit more interested in what he was up to during the pandemic.
Primarily, there’s the history of him repeatedly interfering with free and open vaccine distribution. After spearheading a research and distribution initiative called ‘The Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator’, or ACT-Accelerator. Here, Gates and his team actively lobbied in favor of ‘monopoly medicine.’ shaping the flow of vaccine development towards richer, whiter nations.
“Things could have gone either way,” says pharma-policy expert James Love, “but Gates wanted exclusive rights maintained. He acted fast to stop the push for sharing the knowledge needed to make the products.”
Love’s point proved itself in time. After shutting down discussions of free and open vaccine development tech, the ACT-Accelerator failed to meet its goals one year into the pandemic, particularly those that were focused on helping low-income countries. Naturally, drug companies like GSK, J&J, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer jumped on the chance to associate themselves with this plan, and went on to make record profits across the last two years. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, who publicly condemned a shared vaccine IP as ‘dangerous nonsense’, even went on to praise Gates, calling him an ‘an inspiration for all’.
Ultimately, Gates’ problem is the same one that we can attribute to the growing list of billionaires with an agenda of becoming the world’s next big hero. Most of them, especially Gates, are guilty of using their power to uphold harmful status quos, while covering it all up by donating money to causes, usually with little follow-up and without being accountable to anyone.
It’s a system that has routinely devalued poor people, while simultaneously forcing them to bear the brunt of everyday responsibility; a cruel solution that Gates seems to firmly stand behind, while telling the world that he’s got all the answers.
Perhaps the 1 percent isn’t that interested in saving the world – even if they’ve got some pretty flashy ideas on the topic.
(Featured Image Credits: @BillGates/Twitter)