Philanthropist Bill Gates, who has long warned of the need to prepare for pandemics, is dumbfounded by how poorly the United States has responded to Covid-19.

In an interview with STAT, Gates sounded exasperated at times as he described the badly bungled launch of Covid-19 testing, the enlisting of a neuroradiologist — rather than an epidemiologist or infectious diseases specialist — to help guide the White House’s response decisions, and the recent move to discourage testing of people who have been in contact with a known case but who aren’t yet showing symptoms.

“You know, this has been a mismanaged situation every step of the way,” Gates said in the wide-ranging interview. “It’s shocking. It’s unbelievable — the fact that we would be among the worst in the world.”

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He leveled his harshest criticism at Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, who mischaracterized findings from a Mayo Clinic study on Covid-19 and said researchers had seen a 35% survival benefit with the use of convalescent plasma. “Many of you know I was a cancer doctor before I became FDA commissioner,” Hahn said at the time. “And a 35% improvement in survival is a pretty substantial clinical benefit.”

“This is third grade math. I mean, are you kidding?” Gates said. “The head of the FDA got up and said it was a 35% death reduction where it’s not even a 3% reduction based on just a tiny little subset that was nonstatistical. This is unheard of.”

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In fact, there are no data from randomized controlled trials to indicate whether convalescent plasma — an antibody rich blood product created from blood donations from Covid-19 survivors — actually increases survival. The as-yet unpublished Mayo Clinic study only reports that Covid patients who received plasma infusions with high levels of antibodies fared better than those whose plasma infusions contained lower levels of antibodies.

Hahn later said wider criticism of his remarks was “entirely justified,” and acknowledged his misstatement.

Early in the outbreak, as it was becoming clear the new coronavirus was spreading from China, experts from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were in regular contact with the Trump administration, urging officials to come up with a plan for who to test and how to test them, and to get surveillance data up on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gates said from the start the foundation insisted that commercial laboratories should only be paid for their work if they returned test results within 24 hours — a target rarely reached in the U.S. response. Anything longer than that meant the tests were not useful for containing spread of the virus, he said, adding: “You get to write apology notes to the people you infected in the meantime.”

This advice still isn’t being heeded. “I’ve been saying this and I just don’t get why it hasn’t changed,” Gates said.

The CDC’s early missteps on testing — “they created this overly complicated test,” Gates said — was followed by a slow rollout of commercial tests. The commercial tests use polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, to look for small fragments of the genetic material of the virus in mucus swabbed out of the nasal passages of people who are tested.

“We have way more PCR machines than any country in the world. I mean, we are PCR central,” he said with emphasis. “So, the idea that we actually made it harder to get PCR tests approved by the commercial sector, it’s mind-blowing.”

Gates is also perplexed as to why testing is still being conducted using nasopharyngeal swabs — an unpleasant procedure that people liken to having your brain stabbed. The Gates Foundation led research that showed swabs circled in the nostril were as accurate and far easier to administer. They also don’t trigger bouts of coughing that can spread the virus.

“But even today in this country, that’s not 100% [of the tests],” Gates said. “So, you have health care workers getting coughed on and people are reluctant to take the test because of that obsolete approach is still quite prevalent.”

Likewise, Gates could not believe the administration’s recent move to rewrite CDC testing guidance to state that people who weren’t displaying symptoms didn’t need to be tested. Experts said the revised recommendations will make it harder to find and isolate people who are just becoming infectious — undermining efforts to limit spread of the virus. “It blows the mind,” Gates said.

The new advice reportedly had the support of Scott Atlas, a recent addition to the White House coronavirus task force. Atlas, a neuroradiologist and a public policy fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, has reportedly been advocating a policy of allowing the virus to spread unchecked so the country can reach herd immunity quicker.

Gates is not a fan. “The administration’s now hired this Stanford guy who has no background at all just because he agrees with their crackpot theories.”

Although Gates has spoken to President Trump about a number of health issues before the pandemic — and the importance of preparedness — he said his “most active communication” these days is with Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, and Anthony Fauci, the director the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Gates did credit the administration for the work it has done to fast-track development of Covid-19 vaccines, through the initiative known as Operation Warp Speed. Even there, though, he feels the administration’s unwillingness to support efforts to help low- and middle-income countries to buy pandemic vaccine is self-defeating.

He has been pressing Congress to contribute $4 billion to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to help finance that work and an additional $4 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria to help low- and middle-income countries access Covid-19 tests and therapies.

“We did a good job funding R&D [on vaccines], but … we’re not getting any credit for the R&D funding,” Gates said. “All you have to do is the four plus four, $8 billion total. And then people will see, even though the U.S. made some mistakes, at least our desire to cooperate, help others and use our R&D capacity, at least, you know, they’ll see it in a positive light.”

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  • Gates is a liar. He did not give Trump any specific recommendations for preparing for a pandemic such as testing, equipment etc and most of all not depending on China for meds and equipment. That’s one of Microsoft’s and Gates favorite countries. Where are all of his computers made, robbing Americans of jobs. Dr Scott Atlas is smarter than Gates could ever be. All of Gates information about him is hearsay, and made up by liberal marxist news media. He might go to the trouble to get some facts. The USA needs to vaccinate itself, then pay for vaccinating the 3rd world countries. For them we need a vaccine that stores at room temperature, not at -80 as most of the current vaccines require. Gates needs to be more factual than political

    • Edit: comment from immediately below is from me, Atsedop. Somehow I always seem to get things backwards, just like all the Marxist liberals under the spell of Lenin. /s

    • Yes – this business about how the vaccines have t be kept at =80 C is seemingly impractical and preposterous. And they a throwing multi-billions at virtually ALL these biotechs to spend on manufacturing infrastructure to produce a vaccine they don’t even have developed yet. If they had sent that money to 3M for a few more N95 mask-making machines, everybody in the country would already have several n95 masks.

    • @Slipperami, my commentary is made through sarcasm. Sometimes it’s easier to make a point that way. Regards, Atsedop

  • Do not slam Gates.He has the sense, wisdom, time and money to surround himself with advisors who give him a platform from which he can speak with confidence. He is a good guy in l this mess!

  • Really !?
    All of the Bill Gates detractors need to shake their heads, He is a brilliant person, does not need ANY money nor self gratification.
    He and his wife are doing nothing but good and lets support them as opposed to always criticizing.

  • Just amazes me that gates is a self made authority on virisus or the treatment there of .all he is pushing for is the quick buck from a vaccine . If one researches his background he should stay in his lane and leave medicine alone .He could have a class action law suit against him and his foundation. His windows 10 does not even work …..

    • 30 years of studying and fighting outbreaks in Africa and the United states more than qualify him to speak out. He didn’t need a college degree to start one of the most successful technology companies in the world. He has applied that type of drive to his understanding of virology.
      Science will get us through this, not lies and miracles.
      But you’re smarter than Bill Gates so we should listen to you.

    • When one of the smartest guys on the planet, who has spent the past twenty-plus years fighting infectious diseases, is “dumbfounded by how poorly the United States has responded to Covid-19” I don’t think the proper response is to tell him to “stay in his lane.” This is his lane. Are you so pleased with the U.S. response that you don’t think we need help solving this, or maybe you aren’t familiar with Gates’ credentials.

  • Don’t make comments that way.
    The stupid have a quick opinion, while experts work on solution.
    The fact, that Helen makes this interview should let you to think twice.

  • It’s sad how misinformed people vilify Bill Gates who had given the majority of his wealth and devoted his time to better the world. We’re living in a crazy time in America where science is ignored and conspiracy theorists have gained cult followings.

  • Nobody cares what Gates has to say. Is he an MD? Is he an epidemiologist? Yeh. That’s what I thought. Nobody cares, Billy.

    Besides, it looks like Sweden had the best response of any nation, which now enjoys almost zero impact from the virus after doing absolutely nothing.

    Billy needs to shut up, ditch his grandpa’s sweaters (he has billions–buy some decent clothes!), fix the bugs in Windows 10, and quit pretending to be more relevant than he truly is. Who does he think he is, Bono?

    • No soapbox here. I suppose that in your little mind, every post on every web page necessarily involves a soapbox. I suppose that your statement regarding irony, therefore, necessarily implies that Billy was on one too. OK then. I guess that matters?

      The fact remains that those with money or fame, or both, like Billy, seem to think that their opinion on subjects for which they possess no acumen or expertise, matters. It doesn’t, except maybe to sycophants of the aforementioned wealthy and famous.

    • LOL!! Further, typical Dem Bill wants to spend other people’s money i.e. ours, the tax payers, when he certainly has enough of his own to cover his vaccine schemes. Nearly 500,000 dead children polio vaccine victims in India isn’t enough for eugenic Bill! Arms up Trump haters for COVID-19 vaccine. It’s going to save you: Bill and the media have told you so. So it’s got to be true. Right?

    • Sweden had the best response of any nation?

      New Zealand, half Sweden’s population, had a hard lockdown to knock the thing on the head and closed its borders, went 100 days with no infections at all and a single outbreak since that recorded 1 new case on Monday and 0 on Tuesday. 1,450 cases in total and 24 deaths since the onset. Life here pretty much back to normal for most of the country.

  • You missed an opportunity to ask about the Polio vaccine failure in Africa.
    Gates should acknowledge his failure as well as his many successes.
    I see Atlas as breath of fresh air. His insight as into the lost life years aspect of the NPI only policies is sobering.
    I grow weary of the hysteria that drives policy in the name of “science”.
    G

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