A few weeks ago, when President Biden held his first press conference since taking office, he promised that 200 million adults will have received at least one vaccine jab by the time his first 100 days have finished – a doubling of his initial target of 100M. Yet, in close to 130 countries, representing a population of 2.5 billion people, not a single adult has received a dose.
The reasons why can be traced back to one man: Bill Gates. Gates has been warning about the dangers of a pandemic for years – since long before COVID first emerged in Wuhan. And when the pandemic struck and talk first turned to vaccine, one issue that was notably left out of the discussion was who deserved the proper credit, and the proper payment. As the New Republic reports in its latest piece in a series attacking the Bill Gates myth that he and the Gates Foundation are the world’s capitalist saviors – ready and eager to save poorer nations from the pandemic threat with billions of free vaccines.
Proponents of the open-vaccine movement, who had hoped for an open-source “people’s vaccine” that could be produced cheaply and easily by various governments, quickly hit a wall, stymied by a global drug system founded on proprietary science and closely guarded market monopolies.
In late May, the WHO launched the Covid-19 Technology Access Pool, or C-TAP, with the intention of pooling all of the publicly available vaccine knowledge in one central clearinghouse. Public and private actors would collect research and associated intellectual property in a global knowledge fund for the duration of the pandemic. It seemed pretty straightforward. But the seeds of this approach’s destruction had been sown one month earlier, when Bill Gates launched his own technology accelerator.
In April, Bill Gates launched a bold bid to manage the world’s scientific response to the pandemic. Gates’s Covid-19 ACT-Accelerator expressed a status quo vision for organizing the research, development, manufacture, and distribution of treatments and vaccines. Like other Gates-funded institutions in the public health arena, the Accelerator was a public-private partnership based on charity and industry enticements.
Crucially, and in contrast to the C-TAP, the Accelerator enshrined Gates’s long-standing commitment to respecting exclusive intellectual property claims. Its implicit arguments—that intellectual property rights won’t present problems for meeting global demand or ensuring equitable access, and that they must be protected, even during a pandemic—carried the enormous weight of Gates’s reputation as a wise, beneficent, and prophetic leader.