Bill Gates On Coronavirus Vaccine Conspiracy Theories

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CNBC excerpts: Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates speaks with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin on “Squawk Box” today discussing coronavirus vaccines, working from home, vaccine conspiracy theories, Elon Musk, and the profit motive for companies.

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Gates On Coronavirus Vaccines

BILL GATES: You know, I'm enthused about all the coronavirus vaccines that the U.S. has funded. There's the first wave, which is about five. And then there's a second wave, which are cheaper, could be more effective, but, you know, they have to wait because they didn't get done as quickly. So, you're just going to hear, you know, various phase threes will start. You know, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a particularly good, low cost vaccine.

The AstraZeneca's and Moderna are two of the first to get out there. But, you know, we live every day with our vaccine experts talking to these companies because, you know, how we put the world's resources behind these isn't just driven by a normal sort of market thing. This is, you know, cooperation to figure out within a country and across countries where this vaccine should go.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: And then on the therapeutic side, what do you see out there? Do you see any drugs out there that you'll be able to get a prescription from a doctor, you'll be able to go to CVS or Walgreens so that it's not an in-person, in the hospital event?

Gates On Remdesivir Coronavirus Vaccine

BILL GATES: Yeah. The antiviral that's approved, Remdesivir, is right now for once you have serious symptoms, it's possible to move that to a form which we would give early and that would be easier to administer. That's just being examined now. There are two other antivirals, which are more likely to be oral instead of the IV infusion, which is Remdesivir right now. So, before the end of the year, those other two antivirals or the reformulation, that could be figured out. Also, I'd say monoclonal antibodies are probably the most promising class. And here you have people like Regeneron, Eli Lilly, also AstraZeneca doing some pretty strong work. And those trials are much faster because you can see the therapeutic benefit faster than the protective benefit.

So, I think there's a good chance we'll have substantial death rate reduction by the end of the year, with the combination of those new tools. Several of which are, when you start to have serious symptoms, you would be treated before you'd have to go into intensive care.

Gates On Overcrowding In Cities And Working From Home

BILL GATES: Well, overcrowding in cities does have some negatives in terms of the real estate cost and the traffic problems that you get into in the fact that only a few cities have gotten a lot of these high paying jobs, that's a little bit of a problem for the cities and areas that get left out of that. So, I see this flexibility, which has been accelerated by the pandemic. You know, where you can do telemedicine. And we invest in distance learning to make it far better than it's been so far. I see that as basically positive, giving people options.

You know, I know some tech employees, you know, are living in, you know, different places. And, you know, asking, "Hey, when do we need to go back," so they can plan. It was interesting that, you know, Google went all the way out to mid-2021 before they'll resume normal office work. I think others will follow that. And there will be less travel, face to face travel. There will be more flexibility about these jobs. You know, I see net, that's a really great thing.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Do you think these businesses will thrive in this era, not just economically as we've seen them maintain their business in this environment, but be able to grow and be creative? You're living a distance life yourself with those at the foundation. How much do you crave getting back in a room with them? Do you feel like creativity has been lost?

BILL GATES: I'm amazed at how productive we are. As a new employee comes in though, it's a little tough because the kind of conversations they would have, you know, kind of after the meeting or running into people. The online experience today isn't as good at that kind of casual thing before and after the meeting or just kind of hanging out. Now, some of that can be improved. But I don't think we'll completely eliminate having those foundation offices and people come in and do face to face meetings. I think we'll do less long-distance travel. You know, there's room for creativity on which benefits you get from what type of get together.

Gates On Kids Going Back To School

BILL GATES: I'm a big believer that for young children the benefits in almost every location, particularly if you can protect the teachers well, the benefits outweigh the costs. As you get up to age, like, 13 and higher, then you'll have to look at your locale to decide what you'll do with high schools. And if they're not in, then you have to put massive effort into trying to get there to be continued learning online. You know, our foundation has revamped our education work to really jump in and help out, you know, get those online capabilities up. Make sure that minority students and low-income students aren't suffering the most throughout all of this. But it's a very tough set of tradeoffs that everyone's going through.

Gates On What Needs To Be Done Right Now

BILL GATES: Well, the simplest thing which has to do with such insanity is you should not reimburse somebody for getting a test that it takes more than 48 hours to get the result back. That test is a complete waste. And to all these numbers about how much we test, the majority is just complete waste.

You need to get it back as soon as possible so that somebody can change their behavior, so they're not infecting other people. Our case levels are too high for contact tracing to work. Because as those numbers come down, I hope they will come down at some point, then that will kick in. But right now, this thing where you wait more than three days, sometimes seven days to get a test, nobody should pay $1 for that. That’s insane. You need to prioritize.

You need to make sure that, you know, low income communities that are most at risk, that they're getting those results back within 24 hours. So that, you know, that's the near-term thing. And then enabling the therapeutics and vaccines appropriately tests to get out, that would be the next thing. And, you know, get the whole world the benefits of those things so we can go back to normal.

Gates On Vaccine Conspiracy Theories

BILL GATES: We can go a lot further by inventing more coronavirus vaccines. So, the idea that, you know, our foundation is connected up in that we're trying to help that, you know, those are the values that Melinda and I have. You know, to flip it around and say somehow, you know, that the creation of the virus or, you know, profiting from vaccines, that's unfortunate. But it really starts to hurt if it means people aren't willing to take the vaccine. And once it goes through that safety process that the FDA is the best in the world at a professional level of being able to review that.

I am worried. It's not surprising that people are looking for simple explanations in a very uncertain time. But hopefully, they'll look to the facts, understand the values of the people that they're thinking about. And understand that, you know, we're in this together. And, you know, we need to protect each other with masks. Eventually, probably with herd immunity through a vaccine.

Gates On Social Media And Misinformation

BILL GATES: Well, definitely when you let people communicate, you have to deal with the fact that certain incorrect things that are very titillating can spread very rapidly compared to the truth. And we've always seen that with coronavirus vaccines. Any negative thing gets out to people. And you know, the facts about no, you know, it's safe, it doesn't cause autism, that travels very slowly by comparison. And social media can make that even worse.

So, the degree to which these media companies can see what's being said on their platform and take things that are absolutely wrong and get rid of those things or slow those things down, that's very tough. Because, as you move over into political speech or a valid discussion about the safety issues, how you divide that, draw that line, you know, do you have that visibility, these are complex issues. And you know, it has been a spreader of lots of negative things. And, you know, how do you strike a balance there?

Gates On Coronavirus Vaccine Conspiracy Theories

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Would you take a harder line?

BILL GATES: Say again?

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: I said it would – do you think you would take a harder line? And the reason I ask is, you know, Mark Zuckerberg has been very firm about COVID news. He's actually all over COVID news. Tries to keep it – tries I think – to deliver the right news and tries to filter out news that isn't. But when it comes to, "news" news, he's more if I said liberal or progressive with it, people would think that's a political statement, but it's not.

BILL GATES: Well, some of the messages on their platform, they don't even see because of the encryption on WhatsApp. And so, they you know, in order to not have any responsibility, they've made that opaque. You know, so whatever the issue is – anti-vaccine, you know, child pornography – they have made sure they you know, they can't intervene on those things.

And different countries are debating, you know, is that appropriate. You know is this idea that you can't, when you have, you know, criminal activities or different things, the government is blind to what's going on there, I don't know that that'll come up this week. I think this week is more of an anti-trust related thing. You know, it certainly reminds me of when I went in front of the Congress. I wish them well.

Gates Coronavirus Vaccine

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Let me briefly ask you about that though because we talked about how important competition has been in trying to find a vaccine in this time. Is there enough competition in the tech world today, do you think?

BILL GATES: I think over time, the tech world is naturally very, very competitive. Now, I'm not saying that the authorities have to be totally laissez-faire. But I do think people underestimate that natural competitive forces do come into the space. And, you know, we saw that, you know, as mobile phones came in, that was hyper competitive.

You know, the prices keep coming down. The products improve. There are some things like branded merchandise or controlled marketplaces that, you know, it'll be interesting to see how that gets regulated. Yes. I think of tech as even without massive regulation, that there will be a lot of innovation.

Gates On Elon Musk And COVID-19

BILL GATES: Well, Elon's positioning is to maintain a high level of outrageous comments. You know, he's not much involved in coronavirus vaccines. He makes a great electric car. And his rockets work well. So, you know, he's allowed to say these things. I hope that, you know, he doesn't confuse areas he's not involved in too much.

Gates On Profit Motive For Companies

BILL GATES: Well, for the developing countries, it's only going to be companies that offer a very low price because raising money to help those poor countries, so far, you know, we haven't been able to raise the money. And even if the coronavirus vaccine's, say, less than $3, you'd never over $10 billion to get two doses out to all the poorest. So there, we're being even more strict. It's just the marginal cost is all that the donors are going to be willing to pay.

If you took money from BARDA, the U.S., the question is did the U.S. require a low price in return for that? Or what was the deal? There's some opaqueness in those things. The U.S. is to be congratulated for funding more of this R&D than any other country. And that's going to help the world. That is the one category the U.S. deserves a very positive grade on its pandemic response.

But figuring out what the pricing is going to be, what the volume availability for the world at large is going to be, that's still very unclear. And, you know, we're trying to create a dialogue, you know, and find out. We need companies to be willing to let other companies add to the manufacturing, which that's kind of unprecedented. But our technical team is advising on how that can be done.

Bill Gates On Moderna Coronavirus Vaccine

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Okay, related to that, and we just had the CEO of Moderna on, I don't know if you saw, there was a story in The New York Times over the weekend, over $1 billion of insider stock sales have happened from the CEOs who've been participants or moving forward with a number of these vaccine efforts. How do you feel about that? Do you think that taxpayers and policy makers should be looking at that?

BILL GATES: Well, you'd have to say, "Was the BARDA deal done in a smart way?" And when those are opened up, we'll look at that. You know, my hope is that this whole – the innovation of this pandemic reminds people that pharmaceutical companies really care about health. And they come out of it with a stronger reputation than they go in. I think some companies are doing better on that than others. But that will be very important.