Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates says the world is about 18 months away from a coronavirus vaccine. He does expect the U.S. economy to open back up before then, although he believes social behaviors will be permanently changed by the pandemic.
Bill Gates: economy, schools to reopen before a coronavirus vaccine
In an interview with CNBC that aired Thursday, Gates said he hopes schools will be back in session in the fall. He also said that he doesn't think there will be any "significant attendance" for the rest of the current school year. He added that some people might "do something special" over the summer, although that "would be very hard to do."
Some students have been able to attend classes online, but Gates pointed out that many students lack the computers and internet connections that are needed for online learning. He noted that most private schools have ensured that all their students have devices and connectivity. However, some school districts won't do remote learning because many students don't have access.
Bill Gates also believes the U.S. economy will reopen before a coronavirus vaccine. He said the earliest the U.S. could reopen is the end of May. Before a coronavirus vaccine is available, Bill Gates said countries with sizable epidemics will have to determine which activities can restart.
Gates notes that vaccines do not work well in the elderly which is a big issue here as Coronavirus is most deadly for the old.
Gates says that to use his vaccine to vaccinate the entire population. He also says manufacturers will need indemnification to be protected from liability lawsuits.
He repeats the statement in the interview about 12:35 in "that decision lets go and give this vaccine to the entire world", government will have to be involved, because there will be some risk and indemnification needed, before that can be decided on".
A world forever changed
He suggested that some activities that could restart include construction and manufacturing in addition to education. On the other hand, sporting events and other large-scale events might not restart because he doesn't think the economic benefit is large enough compared to the risks of such events.
Even though some parts of the economy could restart, Bill Gates expects social behavior to be radically changed, at least until there's a coronavirus vaccine. He said the economy won't suddenly get back to the way it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, even when government officials say it's safe to return to work.
He explained that behaviors like wanting to eat in a restaurant, attend events or travel have been "utterly changed by the concerns about this disease."
"No one should think the government can wave a wand and all of a sudden the economy is anything like it was before this happened," Gates said. "That awaits either a miracle therapeutic that has an over 95% cure rate, or broad usage of the vaccine."
Bill Gates sees a coronavirus vaccine in 18 months
The Microsoft co-founder stepped down from the company's board last month. Gates decided to focus his time at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is focusing on fighting the pandemic. The foundation committed $100 million for its COVID-19 response. He has been backing a test that would allow people to test themselves for the virus at home. Bill Gates also offered to help financially support factories to produce coronavirus vaccines.
He said therapeutic treatments for COVID-19 could be ready in four to six months. However, Bill Gates thinks it will be at least 18 months before there is a coronavirus vaccine. He told CNBC that some are using an RNA vaccine. If the approach using the RNA vaccine works out, he believes a vaccine could be less than 18 months.
In an interview with the BBC on Sunday, Gates said that when the COVID-19 pandemic is finally over, "very few countries are going to get an A grade" for the way they handled it. He said countries should have simulated a pandemic and practiced their response. Since they did not, he added that we are "in uncharted territory."
Gates told the Financial Times earlier this month that the COVID-19 pandemic will be the biggest event some people will experience in their lifetimes. He also said that countries will have "paid many trillions of dollars more than we might have had to if we'd been properly ready."