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.
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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.
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.
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.
Gavi gathered in June and raised