2021 ANNUAL LETTER

Bill and Melinda Gates condemn vaccine disparity

The two have already given $1.75 billion and urge rich countries to do more to reach poor people

In Summary

•Earlier last year, the foundation gave $156 million to Gavi’s Covid-19 Vaccine Advance Market Commitment, which aims to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are accessible and affordable in low- and middle-income countries once they are available.

•Over the last two decades, the foundation resources backed the development of 11 vaccines that have been certified as safe and effective.

Melinda Gates and Bill have been working remotely since the pandemic broke out.
Melinda Gates and Bill have been working remotely since the pandemic broke out.
Image: Courtesy

Philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates have yet again voiced their concern over Covid-19 vaccine disparity where poor countries have little access to the jabs.

Melinda, in the couple’s annual letter, termed this as an injustice and named it 'immunity inequality'.

She described it as “a future where the wealthiest people have access to a Covid-19 vaccine, while the rest of the world doesn’t."

The couple has gone extra length to ensure the vaccines reach poor people, and this year their Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation invested $1.75 billion in the fight against Covid-19.

Already, wealthy nations have spent months prepurchasing doses of vaccine to start immunising their people the moment those vaccines are approved.

“But as things stand now, low- and middle-income countries will only be able to cover about one out of five people who live there over the next year. In a world where global health is local, that should concern all of us,” she said.

Melinda said they have always reminded wealthy nations that Covid-19 anywhere is a threat everywhere. 

From the beginning of the pandemic, we have urged wealthy nations to remember that Covid-19 anywhere is a threat everywhere"
Melinda Gates

“Until vaccines reach everyone, new clusters of disease will keep popping up. Those clusters will grow and spread. Schools and offices will shut down again. The cycle of inequality will continue,” she said in the letter, titled The year global health went local.

“Everything depends on whether the world comes together to ensure that the lifesaving science developed in 2020 saves as many lives as possible in 2021.”

Earlier last year, the foundation gave $156 million to Gavi’s Covid-19 Vaccine Advance Market Commitment (Covax AMC), which aims to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are accessible and affordable in low- and middle-income countries once they are available.

This week, Gavi announced Kenya would receive 4.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, at a subsidised rate.

In this year’s letter, Bill and Melinda reflect further on the worldwide impact of Covid-19 and the global collaboration and scientific innovation fueling one of the largest public health efforts in history.

They share why they are optimistic the world can emerge from the pandemic stronger, healthier, and more resilient, and discuss two areas they believe are essential to building a better future: prioritizing equity and preparing for the next pandemic.

“Covid-19 has cost lives, sickened millions, and thrust the global economy into a devastating recession,” Bill and Melinda write.

“Although we have a long recovery in front of us, the world has achieved some significant victories against the virus in the form of new tests, treatments, and vaccines. We believe these new tools will soon begin bending the curve in a big way.”

The foundation is supporting the development of new Covid-19 vaccines, tests, and drugs and to ensure equitable, timely, and scaled delivery of these products
COVID-19 TEST: The foundation is supporting the development of new Covid-19 vaccines, tests, and drugs and to ensure equitable, timely, and scaled delivery of these products
Image: File

Bill and Melinda argue that in response to the pandemic, donors from around the world contributed resources, competitors shared research findings, and years of global investment helped unlock a new era in vaccine development, delivering safe, effective vaccines in record time.

Bill and Melinda also stress that it’s not too early to think about the next pandemic. Although stopping it will require tens of billions of dollars per year, they note that Covid-19 has cost the world an estimated $28 trillion.

They urge continued investment in testing, treatments, and vaccines, and discuss the importance of a global alert system that can detect disease outbreaks as soon as they occur.

“The world now understands how seriously we should take pandemics,” Bill writes. “We’re already seeing new pandemic preparedness strategies emerge and I expect to see more in the months and years to come. The world wasn’t ready for the Covid-19 pandemic. I think next time will be different.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was established with the belief that every person deserves a chance to live a heathy and productive life.

Over the last two decades, the foundation resources backed the development of 11 vaccines that have been certified as safe and effective.

It has also worked with manufacturers and partners to deliver other vaccines cheaply and on a large scale in the past (including to 822 million kids in low-income countries through Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance).