Gates upbeat Covid-19 may soon lose its venom


By Ivan Lim
Former AJA President, Contributor to AsiaN   

SINGAPORE:  Some good news out of Singapore: the raging Covid-19 pandemic may devolve next year into something like the flu.

This optimistic assessment by Bill Gates, who warned the world of the coming pandemic in 2015, came during a virtual interview at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum held in Singapore.

Infection rates would fall “dramatically” as a result of vaccinations, natural immunity from infections and new oral treatments for the disease, said the co-chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been funding research and development of vaccines.

Provided no new dangerous variants surfaced, Covid-19 infections could level with, if not be lower than, flu deaths by the middle of 2022, said Gates, noting the deadly disease could lapse into an endemic.

Separately, at the Reuters Total Health Conference on Nov 17, US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci had said, “it’s conceivable” COVID-19 could become endemic in 2022.

This depended on more people getting vaccinated.

“People will still get infected,” he said, “and might still get hospitalised, but the level would be so low (like the fu or chicken pix)l that we don’t think about it all the time and it doesn’t influence what we do”.

In the Gates” interview on November 18, moderated by Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait, the founder of Microsoft   also commented on the three major anti-Covid-19 vaccines:

“It helped that m RNA vaccines – not that ready as recently as five years ago — was there, but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, if we didn’t have that”

If the inactivated vaccines, like Sinovac and Sinopharm, are not quite as good but they work, they “can be made at scale”.

Of the viral vector vaccines like Astraseneca, they came out of efforts to treat HIV and Ebola eight years ago.

On the misinformation and mistrust of politicians about anti-Covid-19 vaccines, the billionaire philanthropist said: “Statistically, we didn’t do as well as I would have expected.”

The politicalisation of taking vaccines and helping to protect other people, you could almost see that as a step backward.

“A meaningful minority in most countries were led down a path of believing that not only were there the rare side effect, but also that the vaccine wasn’t properly tested or were part of some evil conspiracy.”

Asked about China’s zero-tolerance approach in tackling the coronavirus, in contrast to the living with the virus approach, Mr Gates pointed to the consequences for the Chinese people.

“They have very little natural immunity (from having infections), and so they have to drive their vaccination coverage dramatically before they drop the wall that has allowed them to (stop infected people) from coming in.

“Maintaining that wall is very hard, and  many countries deciding  that between vaccinations rates (going up) and anti-virals, the benefits of allowing people to go in and out of the country mean it is fine to open up.”

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