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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Few Women Hospitalized for Influenza Have Been Vaccinated

Fewer than one third of women hospitalized with influenza receive the recommended flu vaccine, according to a study using data over nine flu seasons.

Researchers analyzed data from 9652 women ages 15-44 who were hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza from October through April during the 2010-2019 influenza seasons. Data were pulled from the US  Influenza Hospitalization Surveillance Network (FluSurv-NET).

Of those women, 2697 (28%) were pregnant. Median age was 28 and median gestational age was 32 weeks. Those studied included 36% who were non-Hispanic white; 29% non-Hispanic black; and 20% Hispanic women.

Some 89% of the women, pregnant and nonpregnant, received antivirals while in the hospital but only 31% reported they had received the flu vaccine in the current season, despite guideline recommendations citing clear evidence that vaccination is safe for mother and baby.

Rachel Holstein

Rachel Holstein, MPH, an epidemiology and information science fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who presented her team’s work as part of IDWeek 2020, explained that the mother’s vaccination can help protect the baby from flu infection for several months after birth, before the baby can be vaccinated.

She noted that pregnant women are at high risk for influenza-associated hospitalization.

“Changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women, and women up to 2 weeks postpartum, more prone to severe illness from flu, including illness resulting in hospitalization,” she told Medscape Medical News,

“Vaccination has been shown to reduce the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection in pregnant women by up to one half,” she said. “A 2018 study showed that getting a flu shot reduced a pregnant woman’s risk of being hospitalized with flu by an average of 40%.”

FluSurv-NET data show hospitalizations were more common in the third trimester of pregnancy compared with the first and second, Holstein said. The most common underlying conditions among these women were asthma (23%) and obesity (10%), and 12% were current tobacco smokers. Overall, 5% of pregnant women with flu required ICU admission, 2% needed mechanical ventilation, and 6% developed pneumonia.

Vaccine Uptake Lowest in First Two Trimesters

Holstein said vaccine coverage was lowest among women in their first or second trimesters for all 9 seasons, and overall vaccination coverage increased significantly over time.

Uptake also differed by age. The data showed coverage was lower among women aged 15-34 years compared with women 35 years and older (34% vs 50%).

“It was as low as 15% among pregnant women aged 15-34 years in the 2011-12 season,” she added.

Jeanne Sheffield, MD, director of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, told Medscape Medical News the low uptake of vaccine shown in this study is both familiar and frustrating.

Dr Jeanne Sheffield

She said education from healthcare providers has improved, but women are nonetheless frequently fearful. She pointed out the widespread phenomenon of vaccine hesitancy in the general population.

Coverage was 45.3% among adults in the 2018-2019 flu season, 8.2 percentage points higher than

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