Washington (AFP) – The wealthy Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation called Wednesday for global cooperation to ready COVID-19 vaccines for seven billion people, while offering $150 million toward developing therapeutics and treatments for the virus.
While it is likely to take as many as 18 months to develop and fully test a safe coronavirus vaccine, global authorities and businesses need to start now on plans to manufacture it, said foundation chief executive Mark Suzman. “When you are dealing with a novel pathogen like COVID-19, as and when we get to identifying a successful vaccine, we are going to need billions of doses.”
“There are seven billion people on the planet,” he said. “We are going to need to vaccinate nearly every one. There is no manufacturing capacity to do that.”
Suzman announced the foundation, started and controlled by mega-billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates, is adding $150 million to the $100 million it announced in February to help in international efforts to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
“A successful vaccine has to be available for seven billion people. You need to test if there are unexpected side effects, or side effects within cohorts or groups, whether it’s pregnant women or the elderly or the very young,” said Suzman.
But even as those trials take place, he said, there needs to be an international group of experts, countries and companies honing in on those with the most promise and preparing ahead of time to manufacture them.
“Clearly for us, the World Health Organization is a very strong, reliable partner,” Suzman said, noting the Gates Foundation is WHO’s second-largest source of funding after the US.
Suzman said the Gates Foundation is “reasonably optimistic” that one or more successful vaccines can be proven within 12 to 18 months.
“This will be the fastest vaccine ever developed in human history,” he said.
“There will be no return to ‘normal’ until there is a vaccine,” Suzman said. “But there are no dramatic ways to short-cut it.”