Bill Gates says coronavirus vaccine distribution should be based on equity, not the ‘highest bidder’

Bill Gates said COVID-19 vaccines need to be distributed equally, not to those that can pay the most money.

The Microsoft co-founder spoke this weekend at a remote conference hosted by the International AIDS Society.

“If we just let drugs and vaccines go to the highest bidders, instead of to the people and the places where they are most needed, we’ll have a longer, more unjust, deadlier pandemic,” Gates said. “We need leaders to make these hard decisions about distributing based on equity, not just on market-driven factors.”

Gates said he’s still optimistic about countries defeating the COVID-19 outbreak, pointing to advances in science and past vaccine efforts with the HIV crisis.

“One of the best lessons in the fight against HIV/AIDS is the importance of building this large, fair, global distribution system to get the drugs out to everyone,” he said.

“Vaccine nationalism” is a term being used to describe potential tension over which countries get access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Speaking at a TED2020 virtual event last month, Gates said it’s unlikely that any vaccines will become widely available before the end of the year. The three farthest-along vaccines are being tested by Moderna (with the help of an initial Seattle-based clinical trial), Johnson & Johnson, and a team including AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. Other prospects are moving ahead as well.

Gates suggested taking a cross-company approach to produce the best vaccines to emerge from clinical trials. “Then you’re using the manufacturing plants of many companies to get maximum scale of the best choice,” he said at the TED event.

Although the bulk of Gates’ career was spent turning Microsoft into a tech juggernaut (and turning himself into the world’s second-richest individual), he and his wife, Melinda, have focused on global health issues for the past two decades. In recent years, he’s been raising the alarm about the potential for a global viral outbreak — most famously during an earlier TED talk in 2015.

Now he comments on the pandemic’s progress almost weekly from his Seattle-area home base via video links with media outlets ranging from TED to CNN to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”

The Gates Foundation has committed $250 million to the fight against COVID-19.

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