In words that now seem prescient, Bill Gates said in an interview with STAT two years ago that he had urged President Trump to invest in technologies to respond to a pandemic.
“The president was kind enough to spend time with me, and one of the issues I brought up is this opportunity to build new tools that would help us deal with a pandemic,’’ said Gates, who has long warned of the possibility of a global disease outbreak.
He added: “It is strange that this risk, that the world isn’t doing more. We talk about doing more when we have smaller epidemics like Ebola and Zika, but then the actual follow-up is pretty modest. We think the idea of spending what would be a tiny part of the budget to be ready for a pandemic makes sense.’’
Since December, a new coronavirus that originated in China has spread rapidly, causing outbreaks around the world, including in Iran, South Korea, Italy, Japan, and the United States, including in Seattle, where the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is headquartered. Last month, the foundation made a commitment of up to $100 million to the global coronavirus response. And on Tuesday, it announced a partnership with Wellcome Trust and Mastercard that will provide up to $125 million to speed up the development of drugs for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
To date, more than 100,000 people have been sickened with Covid-19, and more than 3,800 people have died. Most cases and deaths have been in China.
The World Health Organization has told countries to prepare for a coronavirus pandemic, but it hasn’t yet made that declaration and insists it’s too soon to do so.
In the interview, which took place in Boston in April 2018, Gates noted that the heightened “speed of travel’’ across the globe would exacerbate efforts to slow the spread of any pandemic.
He added: “When an epidemic hits, governments having been prepared in advance and going through simulations, that will help them make the decisions that are only in their hands.’’
He recalled that in an Oval Office meeting the month before, Trump was enthusiastic about the prospect of a universal flu vaccine. (In the same meeting, he said, Trump floated the idea of his becoming the White House science adviser.)
Watch above for a fuller version of the interview.