Covid risks are down but another pandemic will come

Bill Gates said Friday that the risks of getting seriously ill from Covid-19 have “significantly decreased” but another pandemic is uncertain.

Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany, Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said a potential new pandemic is likely to originate from a pathogen different from the coronavirus family.

But, he added, advances in medical technology should help the world do a better job of combating it – if the investment is made now.

“We’re going to have another pandemic,” Gates said. “It’s going to be a different pathogen next time.”

Two years into the coronavirus pandemic, Gates said the worst effects have worn off as large swaths of the world’s population acquire a certain level of immunity. Its intensity has also diminished with the latest omicron variant.

However, Gates said that in many places it was due to the virus itself, which creates a level of immunity, and it “has done a better job of reaching the world’s population than we have done with vaccines.”

“The chance of developing a serious illness, which is mainly associated with the elderly and developing obesity or diabetes, these risks are now greatly reduced due to exposure to infection,” he said.

It is already too late to reach the World Health Organization’s goal of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population by mid-2022, Gates said. Currently, 61.9% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

He added that the world must move faster in the future to develop and distribute vaccines, calling on governments to invest now.

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“Next time we should try to make it, instead of two years, we should make it more like six months,” Gates said, adding that standardized platforms, including messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, will make that possible.

“The cost of preparing for the next pandemic isn’t that huge. It’s not the same as climate change. If we’re rational, yes, next time we’ll catch up early.”

Gates, through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has partnered with the UK’s Wellcome Trust to donate $300 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which helped shape the Kovacs program to deliver vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.

CEPI aims to raise $3.5 billion in an effort to cut the time needed to develop a new vaccine to just 100 days.

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