Bill Gates pledges $1.6B for vaccines, addresses ‘bizarre’ conspiracy theories

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is pledging an additional $1.6 billion to the Gavi vaccine alliance for the next five years, plus an additional $100 million specifically for COVID-19 vaccines, preparing to fight the pandemic in low-income countries.

“Right now we’ve got billions of people in lockdown because we don’t have a vaccine or cure for COVID-19,” said Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, on a call with reporters in advance of the announcement. “The devastating impact of COVID-19 is a huge reminder of how vulnerable we are to disease.”

Announced this morning at the Global Vaccine Summit 2020, the new pledge brings the Seattle-based foundation’s total funding of Gavi to about $5.7 billion.

Gavi is seeking to raise a total of at least $7.4 billion as part of the event today. The overall funding will go toward deploying a variety of vaccines, with the potential to save up to 8 million lives, according to the foundation.

Reporters on the call asked Gates about conspiracy theories and misinformation campaigns about vaccines, and the foundation’s motivations for funding them. A recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that 44% of Republicans surveyed believe that Gates was “plotting to use a mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign as a pretext to implant microchips in billions of people and monitor their movements — a widely debunked conspiracy theory with no basis in fact,” as Yahoo News put it.

Responding to a question, Gates called the polls “a little bit concerning.”

He added, “In a way, it’s so bizarre, you almost want to view it as something humorous, but I guess it’s really not a humorous thing. I’ve never been involved in any sort of microchip type thing” related to vaccines.

Gates pointed out that it is good to have health records and data about measles vaccinations, for example, to be able to minimize fatalities. However, he said, “there’s no chips or anything like that that have any connection to this thing.”

“It’s almost hard to deny this stuff because it’s so stupid or strange that to even repeat it almost seems to give it credibility,” he said.

Gates said the misinformation isn’t impacting funding from the world’s governments, but noted that it could be a concern if it causes people to avoid getting a future COVID-19 vaccine.

“If you don’t get a broad uptake, then you wouldn’t have the dramatic effect you want to have, meaning that the risk of reintroduction is so low that you can go back to having things like big sports events,” he said. “The misinformation could hold us back at some point, but I wouldn’t say that that’s hurting us at this stage.”

The Gates Foundation was a founding member of the Gavi vaccine alliance two decades ago. Of the pledges made by the foundation today, $50 million of the $100 million in COVID-19 vaccine funding and $75 million of the $1.6 billion for the Gavi Matching Fund were announced previously.

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