Coronavirus stimulus is ‘the best opportunity’ to help get the world vaccinated: Bill Gates [Video]

There’s a worldwide race to develop and test a workable coronavirus vaccine. And Microsoft (MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates hopes an area you might not expect — the never-ending stimulus negotiations Washington, DC — will be key in helping in the effort.

In a conversation with Andy Serwer for Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit this week, Gates said “the stimulus bill is the best opportunity” to get funding approved. The billions requested — he notes — could represent “less than 1% of the [overall] stimulus bill.”

Gates has been trying to secure those billions for a group called Gavi. That organization and a similar organization called the Global Fund “have spent two decades becoming experts in the task of financing vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics,” Gates recently wrote.

See also: Bill Gates slams Trump’s COVID-19 adviser as ‘pseudo-expert’ who’s ‘off-the-rails’

The Microsoft co-founder’s efforts have gained momentum even as the Trump administration had shied away from a leadership position in other areas of the global response to COVID-19.

‘We’re hopeful’

While gridlock in Washington has recently stalled stimulus talks, both parties have been responsive to greater U.S. involvement in funding a coronavirus vaccine.

The Republican stimulus proposal from July — known as the HEALS act — included $3 billion “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, which shall be made available for a United States contribution to The GAVI Alliance.” Funding for Gavi was not directly included in the Democrats’ proposal — known as the CARES Act — though House Democrats have passed legislation to create a Coordinator for Global Health Security.

Co-chair and Trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, speaks to the gathering during the inauguration of the 8th International Conference on Agriculture Statistics in New Delhi, India on 18 November 2019. (Photo by Indraneel Chowdhury/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Bill Gates speaks to the 8th International Conference on Agriculture Statistics in India in 2019. (Indraneel Chowdhury/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Gates notes that both Republicans and Democrats are now on the record for helping “and so we’re hopeful when there is a stimulus bill, which of course is not totally clear, that it will include this money.”

With the U.S. focused on a presidential election and Congress largely gridlocked, “the people in the Congress who support these things have decided that [the stimulus bill] is the most likely way for something to get done,” Gates said.

A push for the money ‘for our own self-interest’

While Gates is best known for his past role at Microsoft, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has long been a central player in the world’s public health debates and response from diseases like HIV to H1N1 and now COVID-19. The Gates foundation itself has currently pledged over $350 million to the global coronavirus response.

In February, the Trump administration had promised to commit $1.16 billion to Gavi over fiscal years 2020-2023. Estimates of the total cost to manufacture and distribute a coronavirus vaccine to the 2 billion poorest people in the world have ranged somewhere between $12 billion and $16 billion. 

UNSPECIFIED LOCATION - APRIL 18: In this screengrab, (L-R) Melinda Gates and Bill Gates speak during "One World: Together At Home" presented by Global Citizen on April, 18, 2020. The global broadcast and digital special was held to support frontline healthcare workers and the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization, powered by the UN Foundation. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images for Global Citizen )
Melinda Gates and Bill Gates during “One World: Together At Home” in support of frontline healthcare workers in April. (Getty Images/Getty Images for Global Citizen )

Gavi gathered in June and raised

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White House Opposes Expanded Virus Testing, Complicating Stimulus Talks

“No testing scheme, no test is perfect. There will always be people who go undetected,” said Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University who has researched and written about herd immunity. “The best way to protect the most vulnerable is to reduce the amount of virus that’s in the population that can get through all of those testing schemes and cause destruction.”

Dr. Atlas’s position has been challenged by medical advisers around him who have backgrounds in infectious disease response, revealing a significant rift in the White House over the right approach. Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, has pushed for aggressive, broad testing even among young and healthy people, often clashing with Dr. Atlas in meetings.

“I would always be happy if we had 100 percent of students tested weekly,” Dr. Birx said on Wednesday in an appearance at Penn State University, “because I think testing changes behavior.”

Dr. Atlas at one point influenced the administration’s efforts to install new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that said it was not necessary to test people without symptoms of Covid-19 even if they had been exposed to the virus, upsetting Dr. Birx and Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the C.D.C. director.

The administration’s efforts to fund federal and state testing have long been fraught. In July, as administration officials and top Senate Republicans clashed over the contours of their initial $1 trillion proposal, the White House initially balked at providing billions of dollars to fund coronavirus testing and help federal health agencies.

Since the early days of the pandemic, Mr. Romer has argued for a wide-scale testing program, costing as much as $100 billion. He had hoped to persuade Dr. Atlas that if officials could quickly identify and isolate people carrying the virus, they would slow its spread and allow normal economic activity to resume more quickly.

In his email, sent to Dr. Atlas’s personal account, Mr. Romer proposed additional testing and isolation efforts that could allow far more Americans to return to work and shopping, generating economic activity that would be 10 or 100 times larger than the cost of the testing program itself.

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