Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder who now works full time as a philanthropist via his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, just released a book “How to Prevent the Next Pandemic“.
Just like his previous book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster“, this is a book that draws from Gates’ experience working at his philanthropy foundation. A book that starts with “How to” is usually an ambitious one, and these two books are no exception. They talk about tackling the big problems that our world faces, with big but actionable plans and they are filled with unbridled optimism about the use of technology in solving all the problems. In fact, Bill Gates’ background in technology taught him what we can accomplish when we rise up to face life–and earth’s– challenges. His foundation, which benefits greatly from his own and Warren Buffer’s donation, is working towards reducing the inequality gap between the developed and developing countries with considerable success. This is just the effort of a few billionaires, imagine what we– collectively as a humankind– can do if we pool together our resources and work together!
Speaking about pandemics, since 2015 Bill Gates has been warning us that we are not prepared for a pandemic. With Covid 19 exploding on the scene he looked prescient. More than just foretelling, Bill Gates is also taking concrete action; he has been talking to various manufacturers to make the vaccines accessible to developing countries, and his fund’s investment in Covid vaccine totaled USD 1.75 billion. His foundation has played an integral role in leveling the vaccine distribution channels, making it also accessible to the poor and needy.
Compared to other vaccines such as Polio vaccines that took us 20++ years to develop, Covid vaccines were developed in recorded time. But this is still not good enough, as Covid still causes more than 6.25 million in deaths and trillion dollars in losses. In the book, Gates convinces us that we can do better. WHO can setup a Global Epidemic Response and Mobilization (GERM) team that detects and prevents an outbreak from being morphed into pandemic; the development and logistics of vaccines can be improved with Big Data and AI; the health regulators around the world can streamline the whole regulation and approval processes; and importantly, the distribution of vaccines can be made equal between the rich and poor countries, different countries can work together to ensure that vaccines are distributed based on needs and not based on wealth, though this is easier to say than done. The cost of all these totaling around USD 10 billion per year, which is a cheap insurance against the trillion dollars of losses that Covid causes. As a bonus you also get to upgrade the health infrastructure, which further prevents other deaths. It makes good business sense.
One of the challenges in facing pandemic is vaccine hesitancy. In the US, the vaccination rate is only two thirds ( Malaysia is 80++%, significantly better). There are many reasons why people are unwilling to get a jab, and ironically Bill Gates also featured in one of these: the rampant, baseless conspiracy theory that alleges that mRNA vaccines are microchips used by Bill Gates (or his alliance, Illuminati, Rothschild whatever) to put a 666 satanic stamp in your body. Such a tune is popular among the Christian evangelicals and given that they are quite a minority in the US, it’s not surprising that the evangelicals make up a substantial portion of the unvaccinated group.
Luckily in Malaysia the Christian evangelicals are not quite as brain dead as those anti-vaxxers evangelicals in the US.
Bill Gates has no effective solution on how to address this problem ( neither do I), because this is not a technological problem, it’s a psychological one. Persuading people out of a position they don’t reason into can be maddeningly difficult, especially when they are appealing to their Holy Text authority and they can somehow cherry pick the verses to support their position. Their stance might seem clearly illogical to the rest of us ( even to those who also believe in the same Text): if Bill Gates wants to install a microchip, why need to use Covid vaccine at all? Why not just use Hepatitis B vaccine for example, that is more established? And why not just use any of the blood drawing opportunities to do it?
But it’s not like they are always making their arguments on religious ground; sometimes they will make scientific arguments too. For example, the mRNA vaccine is “unproven” and “causes death and unwanted conditions”( even China national media XinHuaNet also made these ridiculous claims). Since they are now making scientific claims, you would think that showing them the experimental and empirical data will appeal to their head, and hence convince them? Well, now they will tell you that the data are fabricated and that the medical authority can’t be trusted, effectively switching back to the previous position that they don’t reason themselves into.
What about propping up religious authority who support vaccines? Bill Gates gives one such example in the book. But then, not everyone will buy it, they will simply “think for themselves” and then seek out “authorities” they want to believe in. Oh by the way, isn’t “thinking for yourself” a good trait?
Just like the climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers are holding back the progress of the world, and hamper our efforts in solving the pressing matters that concern everyone of us. But climate change deniers can be easily won over once we have undisputable better alternatives; after all, people will vote with their wallet. But Covid vaccines are not life saving to the majority of the people (Covid mortality is very low for healthy young people), so the anti-vaxxers can live in their bubble for a long while, enough to frustrate the best effort to distribute vaccines to everyone in a short time.