Bill Gates under fire for saying vaccine formulas shouldn’t be shared with developing world

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Philanthropist and Co-Chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Bill Gates gestures as he speaks to the audience during the Global Fund to Fight AIDS event at the Lyon's congress hall, central France, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. French President Emmanuel Macron said the conference of the Global Fund to fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria raised at least $13.92 billion for the next three years. (Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP)

Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has come under fire for saying vaccine formulas shouldn’t be shared with developing nations.

During an interview with Sky News on Sunday, Mr Gates was asked if it “would be helpful” for intellectual property protections to be lifted and for vaccine recipes to be shared with the world.

Mr Gates flatly said “no,” before adding: “There’s only so many vaccine factories in the world and people are very serious about the safety of vaccines. And so moving something that had never been done, moving a vaccine, say, from a [Johnson & Johnson] factory into a factory in India, it’s novel, it’s only because of our grants and expertise that can happen at all.”

Mr Gates continued: “The thing that’s holding things back, in this case, is not intellectual property. It’s not like there’s some idle vaccine factory, with regulatory approval, that makes magically safe vaccines. You know, you’ve got to do the trial on these things. And every manufacturing process needs to be looked at in a very careful way.”

University of Essex Law professor Tara Van Ho tweeted: “Gates speaks as if all the lives being lost in India are inevitable but eventually the West will help when in reality the US & UK are holding their feet on the neck of developing states by refusing to break [intellectual property rights] protections. It’s disgusting.”

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The director of Global Justice Now, Nick Dearden, wrote on the platform: “Disgusting from Gates here ‘southern countries haven’t had it so bad, they should be pleased to get our excess vaccines when we’re done, there aren’t any idle factories’. Who appointed this billionaire head of global health? Oh yeah, he did.”

Mr Gates said that it was “not completely surprising” that rich countries had prioritized themselves for vaccines.

He added: “The fact that now we’re vaccinating 30-year-olds in the UK and the US and we don’t have all the 60-year-olds in Brazil and South Africa vaccinated, that’s not fair, but within three or four months the vaccine allocation will be getting to all the countries that have the very severe epidemic.”

Journalist Stephen Buranyi tweeted that Mr Gates “acts like an optimist but has a truly dismal vision of the world. We can’t make more vaccines, we can’t compromise profits, we can’t trust poor countries with our technology, and they’ll get their scraps after we eat. Awful”.

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He added: “The poverty of vision from him and other ‘leaders’ has been astounding. Smallpox, Polio, both had joined-up responses that shared knowledge and technology across the world. We’re happy to let the *pharma* market sort out the biggest crisis of our lifetimes. Totally on autopilot.”

In an opinion piece in The Washington Post on Monday, Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz and the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, Lori Wallach, argued that “preserving intellectual property barriers to covid-19 vaccines is morally wrong and foolish”.

They claimed that “waiving intellectual property rights so developing countries could produce more vaccines would make a big difference in reaching global herd immunity”.