Philanthropist Bill Gates, who has long warned of the need to prepare for pandemics, is stunned by the poor response of the United States to Covid-19.
In an interview with STAT, Gates seemed at times exasperated as he described the poorly spoiled launch of the Covid-19 test, the enlistment of a neuroradiologist rather than an epidemiologist or infectious disease specialist to help guide the response decisions of the White House, and the recent move to discourage testing of people who have been in contact with a known case but are not yet showing symptoms.
You know, this situation was mismanaged every step of the way, Gates said in the high-profile interview. It’s shocking. It’s amazing that we are among the worst in the world.
He directed his harshest criticism to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, who misinterpreted the findings of a Mayo Clinic study on Covid-19 and said researchers saw a survival benefit by 35% with the use of convalescent plasma. Many of you know that I was an oncologist before you became FDA commissioner, Hahn said at the time. And a 35% improvement in survival is a pretty substantial clinical benefit.
This is third grade math. I mean, are you kidding? Gates said. The chief of the FDA stood up and said it was a 35% reduction in deaths, when it was not even a 3% reduction based on a tiny penny – non-statistical set. This is unheard of.
In fact, there is no data from randomized controlled trials to indicate whether convalescent plasma, an antibody-rich blood product created from donated blood from Covid-19 survivors, actually increases survival. The Mayo Clinic study, not yet published, only reports that Covid patients who received plasma infusions with high levels of antibodies fared better than those whose plasma infusions contained lower levels of antibodies.
Hahn later said the broader criticism of his remarks was fully justified and acknowledged its inaccuracy.
At the start of the epidemic, as it became clear that the novel coronavirus was spreading from China, experts from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were in regular contact with the Trump administration, urging officials to develop a plan for find out who to test and how to test them and get surveillance data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Gates said early on that the foundation insisted that commercial labs should only be paid for their work if they returned test results within 24 hours, a goal rarely met in the U.S. response. Anything longer than that meant the tests were not helpful in containing the spread of the virus, he said, adding: You can write notes of apology to people you’ve infected in the meantime. .
This advice is still not taken into account. I said that and I just don’t understand why it hasn’t changed, Gates said.
The CDC’s first missteps in testing made this test overly complicated, Gates said, followed by a slow rollout of commercial tests. Commercial tests use the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, to look for small fragments of the virus’s genetic material in mucus collected from the nasal passages of people tested.
We have many more PCR machines than any country in the world. I mean, we are at the center of PCR, he said emphatically. So the idea that we’ve actually made it more difficult for the commercial sector to approve PCR tests is mind-boggling.
Gates is also puzzled as to why the tests are always done using nasopharyngeal swabs, an unpleasant procedure people think of as a stab in the brain. The Gates Foundation conducted research which showed that swabs circled in the nostril were also precise and much easier to administer. They also do not trigger a cough that can spread the virus.
But even today in this country it’s not 100% [of the tests], Gates said. So you have healthcare workers who are coughing and people are reluctant to take the test because this outdated approach is still quite prevalent.
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Likewise, Gates couldn’t believe the recent decision by administrations to rewrite the CDC’s testing guidelines to state that people who did not have symptoms did not need to be tested. Experts said the revised recommendations will make it more difficult to find and isolate people who just become infectious, undermining efforts to limit the spread of the virus. It wows the mind, Gates said.
The new board reportedly had the backing of Scott Atlas, a recent addition to the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Atlas, a neuroradiologist and public policy researcher at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, has reportedly advocated for a policy allowing the virus to spread unchecked so the country can achieve herd immunity faster.
Gates is not a fan. The administrations have now hired this guy from Stanford who has no experience just because he goes along with their wacky theories.
Although Gates spoke to President Trump about a number of health concerns before the pandemic and the importance of preparedness, he said his most active communication these days was with Francis Collins, the director of National Institutes of Health, and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Gates credited the administration for the work it has done to accelerate the development of the Covid-19 vaccines, through the initiative known as Operation Warp Speed. Even there, however, he believes that the reluctance of administrations to support efforts to help low- and middle-income countries buy the pandemic vaccine is doomed to failure.
He urged Congress to contribute $ 4 billion to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to help fund this work and an additional $ 4 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to help countries low- and middle-income earners to access Covid- 19 tests and therapies.
We did a good job funding R&D [on vaccines], but were not getting any credit for R&D funding, Gates said. All you have to do is a total of four plus four, or $ 8 billion. And then people will see, even if the United States made mistakes, at least our desire to cooperate, to help others and to use our R&D capacity, at least, you know, they will see it in a light. positive.
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