With a lot of factories based in India — including AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — in the race for manufacturing a COVID-19 vaccine, they hold an edge for public distribution and supply because of easy scalability, Microsoft founder and Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates said on Thursday.
“The good news on this is that if we can get a lot of vaccine factories doing something that has never happened before, which is being a second source, which will get the capacity up, and the trade-off of having such short supply won’t be as painful,” he said, in an exclusive interview with the Hindustan Times.
For the AstraZeneca vaccine, being manufactured by Serum Institute of India, the Gates Foundation funded $150 million through Gavi. “I was super enthused for that,” Gates said.
“The only way around this problem (of short supply) is to get a lot of capacity, and that’s why it’s important that we have these vaccines that are cheaper and easier to scale,” he added.
Gates touched upon the challenge of equitably distribute vaccines between rich and poor countries, i.e. the global north and south. “The normal market mechanism will take the scarce resources and only make them available to the richest countries, and the richest people in those countries,” he opined, calling it a huge challenge.
“And so, obviously, you want governments to step up, both with the resources and with a more equitable allocation of those scarce resources,” he suggested.
When asked if he thinks things will get back to normal by the end of next year, Gates said that the rich countries will get back to normalcy first. “By the summer of 2021, the rich countries will have more vaccine coverage than other countries. So, the rich countries will be going mostly back to normal,” he said.
“But I still think because the virus will be in the world, we still will be somewhat conservative about large public events, we will still have some mask-wearing,” he noted.