Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates said on Friday that he expects the scientific community will come up with a vaccine against the novel coronavirus relatively quickly — at least when compared to the normal time frame required to develop a vaccine.
As NBC News reports, Gates stopped by The Today Show to discuss the development of a vaccine for the virus that is currently ravaging the world. Gates — who has donated millions to the eradication of infectious diseases — said that he predicted years ago a worldwide pandemic could possibly kill 10 million people, a scenario he deemed more likely to occur than a war that would kill an equal number of people.
The key to stopping or preventing a viral pandemic lies in developing a vaccine. Unfortunately, that process can takes years, Gates said. Once the vaccine is produced in a laboratory, it must then be tested on animals. After passing those initial examinations, it must next be used in increasingly larger sample sizes of humans. It’s a process that can take as long as five years to complete.
In the case of the novel coronavirus, however, the former Microsoft CEO said a vaccine could be found in as little as 18-24 months.
“The best scientists [are] working hard on this. In fact, in the last few weeks I’ve seen signs that we may get to the optimistic side of that time projection [for a vaccine],” he stated.
He also predicted that — had the coronavirus emerged 5-10 years later — governments might have had the adequate time needed to prepare for a pandemic response.
On the subject of governments’ reaction to the world health crisis, Gates suggested the United States has been behind the curve.
Specifically, he suggested that one of the keys to getting a handle on a pandemic is widespread testing, something that he said hadn’t been handled particularly well in the U.S.
“Many countries decided that at the national level, they would orchestrate the testing. That hasn’t happened in the United States. It might not happen. But, you know, the access to tests is just, you know, chaotic,” he went on.
Widespread testing could be one key to reopening the country. As a companion NBC News report noted, testing large numbers of Americans can give officials a closer look at the infection and help them to decide who is able to return to work and when to ease social-distancing rules. So far, only a small percentage of Americans have been tested.
Absent those tests, Gates mentioned some states may be moving too quickly to rescind social-distancing rules, pointing out that — in some cases — states may “move too quickly and have to back off.”