Bill Gates came under fire from social justice activists last Sunday, after arguing that lifting patent protections and sharing formulas for COVID-19 vaccines with the world to encourage a massive increase in manufacturing and distribution is a bad idea.
When asked directly during an interview with Sky News if he thought it would “be helpful” if vaccine prescriptions were shared, Gates was quick to reply, “No.”
When asked to explain why not, Gates, whose enormous fortune as a founder of Microsoft relies heavily on intellectual property laws that turned his software innovations into tens of billions of dollars in personal wealth, said: “Well, there are few vaccine factories in the world, and people take vaccine safety very seriously. So moving something that has never been done before – moving a vaccine, for example, from a [Johnson & Johnson] factory to a factory in India – is novel. But it is only thanks to our grants and experience that that can happen.
The reference is to the Serum factory in India, the largest such institute in the country, which has contracts with AstraZeneca to manufacture its COVID-19 vaccine, known internationally as Covishield.
What’s holding “things back” in terms of the global launch of the vaccine, Gates continued, “is not intellectual property. It’s not like there’s a dormant, regulatory-approved vaccine factory that makes magically safe vaccines. These things have to be tested. Each manufacturing process must be analyzed very carefully. “
However, advocates critical of a robust and immediate change in intellectual property protections at the World Trade Organization when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines issued scathing accusations of Gates’ defense of the status quo.
Nick Dearden, executive director of Global Justice Now, one of the main partner groups in an international coalition calling for WTO patent exemptions at a crucial meeting of the world body next month, characterized Gates’s comments, and the ideological framework behind as “disgusting.”
“Who named this billionaire global health chief?” Dearden asked. Oh yes, he did.
Journalist Stephen Buryani, who wrote an in-depth column in The Guardian on Saturday about the urgent need for patent exemptions and technology sharing, offered an equally negative view of the billionaire’s “horrible” arguments against sharing the technology of the vaccine.
Bill Gates accused Buryani, “acts like an optimist but has a really depressing worldview.”
During the Sky News interview , the mogul said it was “not entirely surprising” that richer nations like the United States, the United Kingdom and others in Europe vaccinated their populations first. He said that made sense because the pandemic was worse in those countries, but he said he believed that “within three or four months the allocation of vaccines will reach all the countries that have a very severe epidemic.”
Check out the full interview below: