During a Twitter Q&A with Devi Sridhar a professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, Bill Gates struck an optimistic tune about the possible end of the pandemic. This does not mean the end of covid in our lives for good, rather that the state of the virus could be downgraded to “endemic.”
While this still may mean that people need to get a shot once a year to protect themselves against covid, many will be able to resume a life more similar to that lived before the pandemic. Gates has based these predictions on new research on the virus and historical evidence looking at previous pandemics and outbreaks like the Spanish Flu of 1918.
To kick-off the conversation with @BillGates, what scientific or tech breakthrough would make the biggest difference now to ending the COVID pandemic?
— Prof. Devi Sridhar 🌈 (@devisridhar) January 11, 2022
For vulnerable populations, covid could still pose a threat. Unvaccinated people tend to face the highest risk of severe infection from Omicron as do people with chronic health issues and the elderly, similar to the flu. The CDC defines a person as high risk if they are “greater than 75 years of age, or greater than 65 with a clinical risk factor.“
“Omicron will create a lot of immunity at least for the next year,” said Gates. Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases at the University of East Anglia told the Huffington Post that while people will probably be able to be reinfected by the Omicron variant, their natural immunity should protect them for about a year. “We will be able to catch Omicron more than once, though subsequent infections will almost always be less severe than the first time round,” added Hunter.
What did Bill Gates say about inequalities in vaccine distribution?
During the Q&A Gates was asked questions related to the challenges of ensuring a more equitable distribution of vaccines. Gates has come under fire after advocating that pharmaceutical companies be able to maintain their intellectual property rights over the vaccines, which many blame for the slow global rollout. After his controversial comments, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation put out a statement arguing that the patents should be lifted.
Gates blamed limited supply for why most of the supply went to wealthy countries, who were able to outbid poorer countries, in 2021. In 2022, he sees that the main challenges will relate to “logistics and demand” as well as “health systems in developing countries.” What is concerning is that if some countries have to reach a higher level of immunity through infection that threatens the healthcare systems, and others can do so through vaccination, the stark inequities come to light. It is immoral to hoard vaccines, forcing some countries to endure deadly outbreaks, while others experience far less pressure on their healthcare system and economy because they have a higher vaccination rate and thus fewer severe cases.
During 2021 the supply of vaccines was limited and they mostly went to wealthy countries. Now we have a lot of supply overall and the problems are logistics and demand. The health systems in developing countries are a limiting factor.
— Bill Gates (@BillGates) January 11, 2022