Bill Gates, the business tycoon and philanthropist, has spent much of his recent career watching and responding to global health disasters. Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he has funded international vaccination efforts and has long advocated for the need to prepare for a global pandemic.
This week, Gates released a lengthy post to his personal blog, where he enumerates the five urgent tasks to rehabilitating the world and setting us back on the path to normalcy. The five innovations he believes are most imperative are an effective treatment, a reliable vaccine, widespread testing, contact tracing, and a plan to responsibly reopen the economy.
Here’s what that all means:
Before people feel comfortable returning to large gatherings outside the home, Gates says that we need a treatment that is at least 95% effective. Without such an assurance, he says, people will not feel safe enough to come into contact with strangers. One such treatment that he proposes is being tested in several laboratories. It involves the use of blood from recovered Covid-19 victims, which can provide those still fighting the disease with plasma full of virus-fighting antibodies. Still, if we cannot find a 95% effective treatment, Gates says that a vaccine will be even more essential.
Gates concedes that it typically takes five years to develop an effective vaccine, but is optimistic that it could happen faster. CDC estimates for A coronavirus vaccine are 12 to 18 months. A vaccine would give those injected with it immunity from the disease. Historically, plagues that ravaged whole swaths of the world, like smallpox and polio, were nearly eradicated as a result of wide-spread vaccination programs.
Tests will be critical in allowing countries to reopen, as they can confirm whether an individual has the virus, even if they are showing no symptoms. Gates advocates for the availability of at-home tests, which would make it easier for more people to check themselves without risking infection by waiting in a long line at a clinic.
4. Contact Tracing
Tracking down people who have been exposed to the virus, or who have come into contact with infected individuals, can help prevent a widespread resurgence of the virus. Gates says that such a task would require a large corps of workers. He looks to the model adapted by Germany, wherein individuals who test positive submit information to the state in regard to where they have been in the past 14 days, to better inform anyone who may have become compromised as a result.
5. Reopening the Economy
Gates says that leaders will have to make compromises in determining which parts of our society can open, and how soon. Opening schools, Gates says, should be top priority, as they provide a larger benefit to society, not just to the students they educate, but to the parents who can work during the day instead of managing their children. But we will probably need to wait longer for large events like major sports or concerts to resume. Other considerations we will have to make include how many people can be seated in a restaurant and how far apart factory workers will have to stand from each other.