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COVID vaccines funder Bill Gates not impressed with their performance, predicts 'yearly shots'

Pfizer CEO admits its vaccine has hit a brick wall with Omicron and that booster only provides "reasonable protection" against hospitalization and death.

Published: January 13, 2022 4:09pm

Updated: January 13, 2022 11:37pm

COVID-19 vaccines allow breakthrough infections. Their duration "appears to be limited."

On top of that, wealthy countries caused harm by bidding up vaccine prices to hoard the "limited supply" available last year.

These are not criticisms from a purported purveyor of COVID misinformation. They came from the biggest private funder of global health research.

Bill Gates, whom the National Institutes of Health called a "superhero" for his eponymous foundation's lavish health spending, frowned on the results of COVID vaccine research and distribution practices in a short Twitter chat Tuesday.

"We need vaccines that prevent re-infection and have many years of duration," he told chat host Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the Edinburgh University Medical School.

It's not the first time the Microsoft cofounder has scoffed at the results of all the COVID spending and research. 

The COVID vaccines do not "block transmission," Gates told a Policy Exchange discussion in November. "We got vaccines that help you with your health, but they only slightly reduced transmission."

Former New York Times journalist Alex Berenson got kicked off Twitter permanently last summer for tweeting of COVID vaccines: "It doesn't stop infection. Or transmission" and has a "limited window of efficacy." 

Last month, Twitter officially banned claims that vaccinated people "can spread or shed the virus ... to unvaccinated people." Only after the policy change was widely noticed did Twitter claim "virus" was supposed to be "vaccine."

The Gates Foundation said it had committed $1.75 billion to the global COVID response as of December 2020. 

That included $250 million to continue development of vaccines, tests and drugs and "ensure equitable, timely, and scaled delivery of these products," along with an earlier $176 million to ensure the availability of "affordable" vaccines in countries that aren't wealthy and "advance additional candidate vaccines."

Gates' criticism is a sharp reversal from the foundation's early assessment of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Both companies said their effectiveness was about 95%, which is "really exciting and super important," Lynda Stuart, who leads the foundation's COVID-19 Discovery and Translational Vaccine Response team, said in November 2020. 

She noted the foundation invested $55 million in Pfizer partner BioNTech in 2019 for its mRNA technology, and had previously funded Moderna. "We are long-term proponents of mRNA vaccines because they show such enormous promise," Stuart said.

Pfizer and Moderna didn't respond to Just the News requests to answer Gates' criticism of COVID vaccines' performance.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla himself acknowledged this week its vaccine had hit a brick wall with the Omicron variant.

"We know" it offers "very limited protection if any," while the booster offers "reasonable protection against hospitalizations and deaths" and less so infection, he told Yahoo Finance.

The publisher filed a takedown notice against a clip of the interview tweeted Monday, disabling the video. Sports journalist Clay Travis shared the same clip the next day without incident.

Tweet URL

In its writeup Monday morning, Yahoo Finance focused on Bourla's prediction that a Pfizer "1.1" vaccine covering Omicron "will be ready in March," not his admission of the current version's failure. So did NBC News.

Omicron is the mildest variant to emerge and least likely to cause hospitalization, raising the question of what the booster's "reasonable protection" provides.

A study published this week, not yet peer-reviewed, found that Kaiser Permanente Southern California patients with Omicron were 52% less likely to be hospitalized than those with Delta, the summer variant. Their hospitalizations were three days shorter on average, and they were also 74% less likely to be put in ICUs and 91% less likely to die, CNBC reported.

Moderna's problems are primarily regulatory. The FDA delayed emergency use authorization of its vaccine for teenagers to further study rare but possibly undercounted heart-inflammation reports.

Four Scandinavian countries — Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland —- either banned Moderna's vaccine for age groups under 30 or 18 or recommended young people take Pfizer's vaccine, following a Nordic study this fall that found the same increased heart risk.

A writer for the investment publisher Motley Fool said both companies risked being "too late to the party" with their Omicron-updated vaccines, particularly Moderna's, whose CEO Stéphane Bancel said it should be ready by the fall.

"The current wave of COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant will likely be over or largely over before either new vaccine version is available," healthcare analyst Keith Speights wrote.

Infection waves 'fade by themselves'

In the Twitter chat, Gates also recognized the role of natural immunity and predicted the arrival of endemicity due to the Omicron wave.

"Omicron will create a lot of immunity at least for the next year," producing severe cases mostly in unvaccinated people, Gates said. "Once Omicron goes through a country then the rest of the year should see far fewer cases so Covid can be treated more like seasonal flu" with "yearly shots."

Gates is the latest high-profile international figure to question the booster strategy the U.S. and other wealthy countries are pursuing, which involves multiple boosters in a single year.

This week, the World Health Organization and European Medicines Agency, respectively, argued against boosters on the grounds of equity and immune-system overload. The U.S. FDA, by contrast, is promoting boosters even for people who got vaccinated after recovering from COVID.

One of Israel's top immunologists published a brutal open letter to its Ministry of Health last week, blasting its pandemic strategy at large.

"The truth is that you have burned hundreds of billions of shekels to no avail — for publishing intimidation, for ineffective tests, for destructive closures and for disrupting the routine of life in the last two years," Tel Aviv University professor Udi Qimron wrote, according to Google's translation of his N12 News essay.

"You refused to admit that the infection comes in waves that fade by themselves, despite years of observations and scientific knowledge," he wrote. "You insisted on attributing every drop of a wave solely to your actions" and "chose to ridicule, slander, distort and discredit" the U.S. and U.K. authors of the anti-lockdown Great Barrington Declaration.

Qimron accused officials of poor tracking of COVID vaccines' side effects and censoring such reports on the ministry's Facebook page. "Doctors avoid linking side effects to the vaccine, lest you persecute them as you did to some of their colleagues," he wrote.

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