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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 The as-yet unpublished Mayo Clinic study only reports that Covid patients who received plasma infusions with high levels of antibodies fared better than those whose plasma infusions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.”

  • Ignorance is bliss, for the manipulators, and they’ve found an easy target in Kat.
    Her rhetoric is what is bringing our country to its knees. Trump is far more dangerous to the health and security of our nation than Covid19.
    Trump is nothing but a false prophet, able to manipulate citizens such as Kat, with lies, hate and fear.
    Ignorance is bliss, for the manipulators, but truth trumps Trump.
    Vote!

  • Thank you. Excellent short piece. Check this out. I read that, even after being repeatedly warned that a Pandemic was coming, Trump cut HHS by 20% in the 2019 budget, putting our supplies, readiness back to 1970’s levels. So then,… Trump, not Obama, was directly responsible for the “empty shelves”.
    What’s scarier is, did he do it on purpose. Senior Citizens, who die from COVID in greater numbers, have a strong record of Voting plus with the Boomer Generation hitting Social Security, Trump seems to think Social Security belongs to the Executive
    branch and Budgets but it belongs to
    the retired workers themselves. I don’t
    know if his Narcisisstic mind is
    Machiavellian enough for that, but, although I’d NEVER actually accuse someone without knowing facts, I wouldn’t put it past Mitch McConnell.
    Just a vagueidea that flitted through
    my head one day.

    • Of all the selfish and utterly stupid things that Trump has done, knowingly withholding information about Covid 19 and intentionally doing nothing when he could have saved so many lives sickens me. This man knew as far back as February and possibly January how deadly Covid is and how easily it can spread. Even now he makes fun of people that wear masks and he encourages people to not wear masks.

      I sincerely hope that he dies a horrible painful death by contracting Covid so that he knows what the almost 200,000 Americans went through who have died from Covid. Knowing this information and intentionally lying and withholding information about the virus which could have played a big part in the peoples lives who died from it should be criminal. What I am saying is that the orange faced racist man who we embarrassingly have to call our president should be put in jail for murder for the way he handled this situation. This is NOT one of those oops sorry about that and go on with your normal life situations.

    • If you do a little checking you will discover that the national stockpiles were set up some time ago and NEVER properly updated / maintain / replenished as items expired over MANY years. Any reduction in funding had little effect on those items. I will add that almost NO COUNTRY got it right because NONE OF US HAVE BEEN THROUGH THIS BEFORE.

      Now that we all have this great 20-20 hindsight, how much money are you willing to spend every year to rebuild and maintain a stockpile that may not be used again for 100 years? That is roughly the time between the 1918 Spanish Flu and Covid. There are no easy answers to these questions or easy solutions. Yes, we can do more. But are we willing to pay what it will cost to do it?

      As for the politics and who said or did what….EVERYONE PLAYED POLITICS WITH THIS. When Trump tried to close the borders he as essentially called a racist. Liberals rallied against Trumps early attempts to do things that could have helped. Now of course things have changed and the liberals had all of the answers back then. It is ALL BS. BOTH SIDES screwed this up, both now and in our preparations leading up to this. Liberals could have pushed to replenish / update the stockpiles? Where were they?

      We need to agree to leave the politics out of this because no matter who did what or what anyone said the other side will use it to their advantage. We will ALL be better served by looking at worked what did not work, how we can improve future planning, etc..

      I will leave you with one FACT. We have short memories. After Katrina there was a lot of money spent, training, etc.. for the next Katrina. That second Katrina never happened and now all of that spending and training has stopped. It will be no different with this pandemic. Everyone will scream that we need to do this, plan for that, spend money here…..BUT….In 10-15 years all will be forgotten and when the next one hits, whether it is 20 or 100 years from now….We’ll find we made the same mistakes again.

  • And the reason we’re even listening to Bill Gates is…? Seriously? He’s a college dropout. He holds NO medical degrees. He’s no medical researcher. Why are we even giving him ANY AIR TIME OR ANY CONSIDERATION AT ALL IN THIS MATTER? I wouldn’t take a vaccine that he came up with for all the teas on Mars! Not a chance! He’s worse than Fauci, who’s changed his mind every other week on whether or not masks work or they don’t, we should stay in or we shouldn’t… Whatever! NO VACCINE THAT HAVEN’T BEEN TESTED ON THESE TWO YO-YO’S FIRST!!! Then we’ll wait two years to see if THEY have any bad side effects before WE try them out!

    • Dang, the propaganda has really gotten to you. There are several obvious reasons we should listen to Bill Gates, as I described in my comment below. You don’t need a college degree to be a genius or well-informed. And however you’re biased by your conspiracy theories and/or politics, the fact os Bill Gates has been right about Covid and related issues. As Hahn eventually admitted, Gates’ criticism was well-deserved.

  • @Scott Wright
    Bill Gates did not criticize the study. He criticized Hahn’s incorrect inference from the study, which Hahn admitted was incorrect. How do you know Gates hasn’t seen or reviewed the study? He certainly knows enough about it to know that Hahn was wrong. You don’t need to be a scientist to recognize an elementary math mistake. I think Gates’ background as a computer science pioneer and philanthropist dedicated to reducing global disease makes him more than qualified to comment on Hahn’s misreading of the study–and then some. But even if you disagree, what’s wrong with a journalist reporting on this? You refer to factual errors but don’t specify what they are. Why you feel compelled to criticize Gates and the author is puzzling… unless you’re motivated by bad politics.

  • Very poor journalism here to let a non-scientist get away with criticizing a study that he has not seen nor reviewed – the US Convalescent Plasma study. Why a billionaire feels compelled to criticize is puzzling except to say he is politically motivated and why a good writer allowed such factual errors are beyond me. Hopefully she will explain this decision.

    • Note that this is the same Gates Foundation that choose back in April to strategically focus on solely supporting the pharmaceutical anti-COVID Hyper Immune Globulin, at the expense of convalescent plasma treatments.
      HiG has been administered to ZERO American COVID patients (and probably will not for months), while plasma has treated apx 100K patients.
      Argue about exactly what is the correct number of patients that are alive today due to getting plasma treatment, but the fact is that ZERO COVID patients’ lives were saved by HiG.
      Definitely sound like Mr. Gates is sensitive to this…

  • Response to Coronavirus is about a 30 second conversation: 1) Coronavirus was known to be contagious through personal contact in December 2019, 2) Coronavirus has no vaccine yet, 3) the *only* way to control virus spread is to separate people from the viruse, i.e. *quarantine*.

    An effective quarantine process requires process to isolate individuals for at least 2 weeks. It requires widespread use of face masks and widely practiced physical distancing. It also requires symptom testing, lab testing, and contact tracing to be practiced.

    And, it would have required quarantine of *every* person trying to enter the US, every airport, every port of entry, by at least early february. And, recall, on September 12, 2001, *every* flight in or trying to enter the US was grounded, within a 24 hour period. So no one would have any business challenging the difficulty of quarantine of people trying to enter the US. They either comply or they don’t enter.

    These steps were not done, today we have nearly 7 million known infections of the use. No analysis needed. End of story.

    • I agree especially on the quarantine of people coming in. As an MD and scientist I was shocked to put it mildly by the pics of airports packed with 1000’s returning from high risk areas, no masks and saying in mid March to everyone that this would lead to an explosion of cases!!

      I was shocked by the “no community spread” and “no airborne spread” and no need for mask lies by even Dr Fauci. Which respiratory virus has any of this ever been true for?!!!

      I’m still shocked by the cloth mask lies and that in America Ford car plants made ventilators but we still can’t crank up production and get N 95’s to everyone

  • So. Next time let’s ask Jeff Bezos, Kim Kardashian, Robert De Niro and finally buddy of mine from 5th street about theirs thought about “what we have to do to Covid-19 pandemic”. Do not limit your self just by mister Bill

  • will someone tell me who will vaccinate the hordes of homeless and uninsured working class people?

    I guess if the rich stay safely mewed up in their estates they can ignore the poor.

  • I quite frankly don’t understand how the far-right gets to have any input into the debate. They support a Trump policy which is responsible for thousands upon thousands of American deaths and then have nothing to contribute for solutions, unless you agree that herd immunity is the way to go. Ask grandma if that works for her. Such disregard for life. It is so sad that now the lunatics run the asylum.

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