Bill Gates: Kenya's Covid control worked, but vaccine is best shot - Beaking Kenya News

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Monday, 8 February 2021

Bill Gates: Kenya's Covid control worked, but vaccine is best shot

 

Kenya expects to receive 4.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine anytime from next week. This will be through the Covax Facility supported by partners including the World Health Organisation, Gavi, Unicef and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Bill Gates praises Kenya’s strong Covid-19 guidelines, which he believes will contribute greatly to ending the pandemic. But the vaccine is the best shot at a normal life, he says.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has so far given $1.75 billion to fight the pandemic.

Bill fielded questions from Africa’s health journalists, including Star’s John Muchangi.

Bill Gates Ted Talk in 2015 when he said the world was not ready to handle a pandemic.

The Star: You've talked before about the dangers of a vaccine grab, and yet this is exactly what we're seeing unfold. Could you share your thoughts on the impact vaccine nationalism is going to have on Africa and what kind of trajectory you'd like to see with the coronavirus pandemic?

Bill Gates: Well, the key for the vaccines is getting more approved and getting more factories into production.

A lot of the work that the foundation has done is to back a variety of vaccines. Back in 2015 in my TED talk, I talked about the risk of a pandemic and how we weren't prepared. At that time, not much was done.

The foundation, Wellcome Trust, the UK, Japan and Norway did create a group called CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), which has helped a lot with a number of these vaccines.

With medicines, we always have this challenge with the big markets; the sales opportunities are in the rich countries. That's why for diseases like HIV or malaria, the foundation reaches out to these companies and says, “We need to have some equitable approach.”

The first two vaccines that were approved are fairly costly to make and hard to scale up. They're very good vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, but it's the next three, including AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, that will give us the highest volumes, the ease of scaling and the thermal stability.

And so we're hopeful that — particularly with some factories in India that the foundation has helped to finance, which have larger factories than the factories in the West — that within the next few months, a large number of doses will come out of there and be targeted almost entirely to the developing world, which is the goal of what we call Covax.

It's a dynamic situation. I've been talking with governments and companies about this going back to last March, and so we have a chance here to get a lot of vaccines.

In Africa, the epidemic itself in a direct sense has been the worst in South Africa. The rest of Africa, with a few exceptions, hasn't been super bad. But of course, the economic effects are there and any life that's lost is really terrible.

So we need to first get the 20 per cent coverage, and then move to 70 per cent, 80 per cent coverage, and I'd say the foundation is at the forefront of that, but it’s still unclear how well all these efforts will go.

I had my first dose last week. There are very, very few side-effects, and it is protecting people. In fact, almost no one who has been vaccinated has had severe disease, which is really quite miraculous
Bill Gates

The Economist last December projected that the vaccine will be widely available in Africa in 2022 or 2023. What can be done to improve immediate supply?

Well, the agreement we have with India is that those factories, at least half the capacity, will be dedicated to supply, through Gavi, to Africa and other developing countries.

Every day, of course, we're trying to speed this up. The history of vaccines is that, until Gavi was created in 2000, the really key vaccines for saving literally millions of lives were not cheap enough for the poor countries, and the coverage levels were very low.

And so Gavi deserves more visibility for what it did, funded by many governments and our foundation, to get diarrhoea vaccines and pneumonia vaccines into all the children in the world.

And so the Gavi approach, where Gavi buys the vaccines at the very lowest price with that donor money, has worked very well. That's why, since 2000, deaths of children under five in the world at large have been cut by half. It’s an even higher percentage if you just focus on Africa.

So, we have that success story. Gavi had a hard time getting money from the United States, until recently, which was fairly key, so both Melinda and I were working on that.

We were successful in getting a $4 billion allocation for Gavi. In the meantime, we were giving money to get these factories already.

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