The man with the vaccine plan: revolutionary or risky?
Even Bill Gates acknowledges the dangers of vaccinating the world. But if Bill Gates wants it, that’s what the world gets. 20 years ago Bill and Melinda Gates became acquainted with vaccine injustice, specifically, children in some parts of the world dying from diseases that could have been treated or even prevented.
And so in that same year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation teamed up with WHO, the World Bank, UNICEF, vaccine manufacturers, and donors to combat vaccine inequality. Thus, GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance was born. The aim: to ‘help develop, produce, and deliver vaccines for everyone’. Kieran McMullan Reports
As idyllic Gates’ as mission may be, it’s something laden with complications both technical and financial. We have already seen international blunders with the handling of COVID-19, and bouts of medical protectionism, as governments frazzled themselves over personal protective equipment and ventilators.
There are currently over 120 coronavirus vaccines in early development across the globe, though most of these won’t get beyond the doors of the laboratories. 13 vaccines are purportedly now in clinical trials, of which five are in China, three in the US, two in the UK, and one in Australia, Russia, and Germany.
All the vaccine teams who are involved are ‘keen to stress’ they are not in a race with one another, but with coronavirus.
In Bill Gates’ own words: ‘GAVI works with governments to make sure that every child has access to the lifesaving vaccines they need.’
The alliance promises vaccines at affordable prices, negotiated with the world’s poorest countries in mind. It buys vaccines in high volumes, hence why manufacturers are able to dramatically lower prices.
The support does not stop there. GAVI also helps low-income countries bolster their infrastructure and braces their systems for the delivering of vaccines to all communities.
It’s indisputable that the COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered serious gaps in the healthcare systems of many countries. So far, large amounts of money has been poured into developing a successful and crucial vaccine.
In May of this year, the UK government boosted its national vaccine programme with a £65.5 million injection. Now, in June, the programme has already begun testing at the University of Oxford, and around 300 people are due to receive the vaccine over the coming weeks at Imperial College London.
Prof Robin Shattock, who is leading the trial has said:
‘If our approach works and the vaccine provides effective protection against disease, it could revolutionise how we respond to disease outbreaks in future.’
The vaccine in question marks a new approach in vaccine development — ‘a milestone for global health’, as GAVI puts it. Heralded as a ‘new era’ for health collaboration, world leaders across the globe have shown unfailing, and perhaps worrying, commitment to this experimental vaccine. Generally dubbed as ‘equitable immunisation’.
The Global Vaccine Summit, hosted by the UK, raised more than $8.8 billion from 31 donor governments, 8 foundations, corporations and organisations. All in the effort to immunise 300 million children and stave off the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our very own Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed: ‘Together we rise to fulfil the greatest shared endeavour of our lifetime – the triumph of humanity over disease, now and for the generations that follow.’
Gavi’s funding will help immunise millions of children in the world’s poorest countries against diseases like polio, measles, and diphtheria by the end of 2025.
Now, herein lies the problem. It’s unlikely a nationalist or free-market driven approach will result in equal access to vaccines. So is this where Bill Gates and his foundation come in?
Elsewhere France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands formed the Inclusive Vaccine Alliance to persuade large pharmaceutical companies to grant equal and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines for EU member states. Highlighting the European concern for equitable vaccines.
A slice of vaccines will be made available for low-GDP countries, but no one is quite sure how big this slice will be, and more importantly, who will benefit from it. Perhaps even more veiled is who will make these decisions.
Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, and Xi Jinping, have rightly called for COVID-19 vaccines to be a global effort—a people’s vaccine.
Cooperation then, should be in full flow. GAVI have made clear that its ‘initial goal’ of raising $2 billion will enable the first 20 million doses of a vaccine to be possible. But supplying a successful vaccine for all developing countries in need will surely require a much bigger investment? So far, GAVI have been strangely reticent about the details of meeting such an unprecedented goal and ultimately what the actual cost will be.
Donors have proposed a financing model for COVID-19 vaccines called AMC and have so far accrued over half a billion dollars. With the principal idea behind AMCs being that if left entirely to the vaccine market, an insufficient sum of vaccines will fall short of the mark. Too little, too late.
However, by confirming to buy large amounts of specific vaccines before they are licensed and tested, Gates’ new fund will encourage manufacturers of big pharmaceutical companies to make investments in the overall output of production. Naturally, supply availability will increase. Completion of successful, usable, and licensed vaccines will be faster, especially, Gates hopes, in poorer parts of the world.
Bill and Melinda Gates have estimated that the development of COVID-19 vaccines for poorer countries will cost up to $75 billion in grants.
The result: to ‘reduce the likelihood of only the wealthiest [benefiting] from the vaccine’. Many are sceptical about the secrecy surrounding the scheme. Particularly the reality of millions of aid dollars locked up for years to come at a time when global budgets are decreasing.
The GAVI Covax AMC is funded with a different motivation in mind — pneumococcal vaccines. While Gavi has pronounced the pneumococcal AMC as a ‘huge success’, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) says that this first AMC had flaws and suffered from pharmaceutical companies demanding a relatively high price for the vaccine.
So, to move forward and alleviate these issues, transparency is needed. Governments and GAVI need to demand that big pharmaceutical corporations are honest about the books so we can see the true costs of productions for COVID-19 vaccines.
GAVI, along with Italy, France, Germany, and the Netherlands’ Inclusive Vaccine Alliance, are just two of several initiatives being floated. Problems of course will rise in equity of vaccine immunisation. Can we really expect a country to export a vaccine before serving its own population?
The question paramount to public interest is: who will get priority access to vaccines? The governance of this decision must be reached fairly.
Unfortunately, a pandemic needs strong global cooperation with sound governments behind it. Many would argue this is something we’re yet to see.
Right now, Bill and Melinda Gates have contributed $750 million towards the manufacturing and distribution of a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford. This manoeuvre is in line with Gate’s aim to fast-track a COVID-19 vaccine, despite the risks.
Oxford and British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate is currently in phase two of three clinical trials in the UK, with a view to carry out testing in Brazil; some 2,000 Brazilians will participate in the trials. A reminder that this vaccine is experimental; it has been fast-tracked (meaning fewer checks on its safety), and will almost certainly have side-effects.
It doesn’t need to be emphasised how expensive it will be for all our governments to facilitate Gates’ aim of developing seven vaccines, in the hope that one will work, no matter the crippling cost. Wasting billions of dollars is inevitable. Arguably, this doesn’t matter; this is worth the cost when lives lost is the byproduct. Only one or two will get chosen, depending on each vaccine’s success.
‘Because our foundation has such deep expertise in infectious diseases, we’ve thought about the epidemic, we did fund some things to be more prepared, like a vaccine effort,’ Gates said. ‘Our early money can accelerate things.’
The British public did not know that when electing Prime Minister Boris Johnson, they were also electing Bill Gates in the midst of the vaccine industry – he is now a big player in Britain’s future.
Speaking on technicalities, Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus that causes infections in chimpanzees and contains the genetic material of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. It’s hoped that upon entering the body, the vaccine will make the body recognise and develop an immune response to the spike protein, preventing the SARs-CoV-2 virus from entering human cells.
If Bill Gates’ vaccine, the one being developed in Oxford, was approved for coronavirus, it would be the first of its type, that type being an mRNA vaccine. RNA vaccines use a different approach that utilises the process cells use to make proteins. Cells use DNA as the template messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules, which are translated to build proteins.
Vaccination is the process in which substances called antigens are introduced artificially into the body to stimulate the immune system — the collection of cells that shields the body from infections.
Those antigens are generally infectious agents, known as pathogens, that have been inactivated. RNA vaccines contain an mRNA strand that codes for a disease-specific antigen. Once the mRNA strand in the vaccine is inside the body’s cells, the cells use the genetic information to produce the antigen.
Billionaire Bill Gates is focused on using RNA and DNA vaccines to enable fast-turnaround of deployment. Recent headlines will tell you the US have now bought up almost the entire global supply of one of two drugs used to treat coronavirus.
Pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences have agreed to send nearly all of its supply of Remdesivir, a vaccine used to treat Ebola, to the US over the next three months, meaning of course Remdesivir will not be at Britain or Europe’s disposal for at least a few more months. The deal struck by America will mean people with COVID-19 in Britain and Europe will not have access to the treatment, meaning many will not have the increased chances of survival the drug could make possible.
Red flags have proven prophetic, and it’s looking like the world will be bereft of Remdesivir — America have swept up the supplies of the drug, and there’s nothing Britain or Europe can do about it.
Dubbed as the “biggest step forward in the treatment of coronavirus since the crisis began” by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, it’s clear those suffering with the severest of symptoms will not have access to the drug.
Experts and campaigners are alarmed over America’s brazen and unilateral decision on Remdesivir. It’s clear the Trump administration feel morally justified and are financially able to outbid and outmanoeuvre any country as long as America benefits.
America’s takeover of the medical industry is by no means a new development in world affairs. The fortunes of Carnegie, Morgan, and Rockefeller financed surgery, radiation, and synthetic drugs, laying the foundations of a new medical economy, in which these oligarchs profited. Rockefeller and Carnegie in particular offered tremendous amounts of money to medical schools, in turn dictating which members were on those particular medical schools’ board of directors. This stretched their influence far beyond the original industries they made their fortunes from. Simply put, schools were taken over by financial interests that put up the money originally.
The enduring Rockefeller family went on to supplement their oil fortune with banking interests, extending their grip on America’s capital — all under the guise of philanthropy.
These are examples of socio-economic engineering that helped shape institutions, governments, and individual minds, all at the behest of the oligarchy.
Bill Gates has cited the Rockefeller model as an inspiration. It is clear that many people don’t see him as the globe-trotting, generous philanthropist he likes to be seen as. A quick glance at some of the comments on his instagram account will give you a good idea of where people stand on him.
Today it’s almost regarded as a sacrilegious act to criticise a philanthropic foundation — philanthropy literally meaning ‘a love of all mankind,’ though it has become clear the sway these foundations are having on government policy and world affairs. The global order has long been shifted toward America as a lone superpower, no longer the inward looking country it once was. It’s possible Bill Gates, or ‘Bill’s Brain‘ is something more rapacious, moving in the guise of philanthropy. Greed being the true super-spreader, the germs of empires.