Wealthier countries should stop “hoarding” COVID-19 vaccines, Melinda Gates said in a pre-recorded interview with Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf during the publication’s Global Boardroom event.
According to Gates, countries should vaccinate their population “up to a point,” and then send both money and extra supplies out to countries in need, especially as some low-income nations “can’t even vaccinate their healthcare workers.”
“You don’t need to vaccinate all the way down, say, to your teen population … before you send out vaccine doses to Covax,” Gates said. Covax is the World Health Organization’s campaign that was created to increase “equitable access” to the COVID-19 vaccines.
Currently, almost 32% of the US is fully vaccinated, while a little over 44% have received at least one shot, according to data from the CDC. Almost 41% of the US population at or older than 18-years-old is fully vaccinated.
Now, figures like President Joe Biden are under pressure to donate vaccine doses to India, which is currently seeing overrun hospitals and record-setting COVID-19 cases. About 9.4% of India’s population is vaccinated, while only 2.1% are fully inoculated. Adults in India are currently eligible for the vaccine, but many states don’t have enough doses to meet these demands, according to a report from BBC.
Now, Gates predicts the US could begin donating vaccines.
“I think the US government is looking at their supply of vaccines and deciding, okay how much of it should we do through Covax, how much should we do bilaterally,” Gates said. “I think you’re going to start to see some movement there.”
Gates acknowledges that this “vaccine hoarding” in part comes from manufacturing issues like the location of the manufacturer, bottlenecks, and lack of materials. To combat this issue, Gates says vaccine production should take place in more locations around the world.
Bill Gates – who has been accused of withholding vaccine formulas – previously said that complications with increased vaccine production could be attributed to difficulties related to creating vaccines in untested facilities (more so than issues with intellectual property laws that could be preventing vaccine formulas from being shared).
“There are only so many vaccine factories in the world, and people are very serious about the safety of vaccines,” Gates said in an interview with SkyNews. “The thing that’s holding things back in this case isn’t intellectual property. It’s not like there’s some idle vaccine factory with regulatory approval that makes magically safe vaccines. You’ve gotta do the trials on these things. And every manufacturing process has to be looked at in a very careful way.”
The official account of China’s Ministry of Public Security posted a separate image on Friday that compared the country’s “fire god mountain” – the name of its makeshift hospital built to combat COVID-19 in Wuhan – with another mass cremation in India, according to Bloomberg. Some social media users reportedly commented saying the posts were “morally problematic.”
Both posts were deleted after many Chinese Weibo users expressed anger at the insensitivity expressed.
Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the Communist Party-backed Global Times also blasted the move, saying: “I don’t think it’s proper for social media accounts of certain Chinese official institutions or other influential forces to mock India at present.”
They should instead “hold high the banner of humanitarianism at this time, show sympathy for India, and firmly place Chinese society on a moral high ground,” he said.
Nationalist sentiment has been running high in both countries as the two world powers spar over a 2,100 mile-long disputed border in the Himalayan region. Some see India’s intense coronavirus battle as an opportunity for China to ease tensions with its neighbor.
“We hope everyone gives attention to the Chinese government and mainstream public opinion supporting India’s fight against the epidemic,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told Bloomberg in response to the deletion of the posts.
President Xi Jinping only recently sent a condolence message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, offering assistance to help the nation deal with its shortage of oxygen and other important supplies.
A foreign ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, told Bloomberg on Friday that the Red Cross Society of China, local governments, NGOs, and Chinese enterprises are attempting to collect pandemic-related supplies and deliver them to India “as soon as possible.”
India reported more than 300,000 new COVID-19 cases for a twelfth straight day on Monday, taking its total caseload to near 20 million. Fatalities rose by 3,417 to more than 215,000, but medical experts believe the number could be five to 10 times higher than the official tally.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on Sunday cast doubt on President Joe Biden’s looming ban on travel with India as a method for preventing COVID-19 variants from being introduced in the US.
“I’m not sure what we’re hoping to accomplish,” Gottlieb said during an appearance on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” “If the goal is to try to prevent the introduction of that new variant 617 that’s circulating in India, I assure you it’s here already.”
“So we’re not going to be able to prevent its introduction,” he added. “These variants aren’t just cropping up in one market and then migrating around the world. They’re cropping up simultaneously in every market.”
Gottlieb said this was known as “convergent evolution.”
“There’s probably a finite number of ways that this virus is going to try to mutate to evade our immunity, and it’s testing us everywhere in the world,” he said. “So the same mutations that are arising in other parts of the world are arising here as well.”
The White House on Friday, citing several variants of the disease, announced it was barring most travel between the US and India because of the virus outbreak in the country. As Insider’s John Haltiwanger previously noted, the travel restriction puts Biden’s actions at odds with his past statements about travel bans, which he previously said would “not stop the coronavirus.”
Effective Tuesday, the ban will not apply to US citizens or permanent residents. Certain students, academics, and journalists will also be exempt from the travel ban, the US State Department said.
“The CDC advises, based on work by public health and scientific experts, that these variants have characteristics of concern, which may make them more easily transmitted and have the potential for reduced protection afforded by some vaccines,” The White House said Friday in a statement announcing the president had signed the proclamation banning travel.
Gottlieb said the US success in vaccinating its population was likely responsible for preventing the variants from having the same effect they’re having on countries like India, which is reporting more than 300,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day. On Saturday, it became the first country to report more than 400,000 cases in a single day.
“These travel restrictions could serve a purpose, but we need to be clear about what that purpose is right now. We still have restrictions in place against travel from China and the UK,” Gottlieb said Sunday. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense. So I’m not really sure what the overall strategy is around these continued travel restrictions that we have in place.”
About 29% of the US population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data analyzed by Johns Hopkins University. More than 243 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in the US, according to the data.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday called for drug companies to waive intellectual property rights to their COVID-19 vaccines so that the inoculations can be produced by various countries in an effort to slow the spread of the deadly disease in hard-hit nations, like India.
“We have got to obviously make sure that every American gets vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Sanders said during an appearance on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” “But not only do we have a moral responsibility to help the rest of the world, it’s in our own self-interest. If this pandemic continues to spread in other countries, it’s going to come back and bite us at one point or another.”
“The second thing we should do is not only make sure that excess vaccines in the United States get around to countries that need it. We should deal with this issue through the World Trade Organization.
“And I think what we have got to say right now to the drug companies – when millions of lives are at stake around the world – yes, allow other countries to have these intellectual property rights so they can produce the vaccines that are desperately needed in poor countries,” he said.
Sanders and nine other Senate Democrats urged President Joe Biden last week to put his support behind a temporary patent waiver that would allow vaccines to be produced locally by other manufacturers, Reuters reported.
Pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, and the US Chamber of Commerce have opposed such calls.
They argue that allowing other manufacturers to produce their vaccines could lead to issues with safety. More than 80 WHO members have backed a proposal by India and South Africa to temporarily wave the IP rights of the companies. The issue will be discussed by the WTO this month, according to Reuters.
The CEO of the Serum Institute, a vaccine manufacturer in India, said he fled the country because of incessant threats against him.
In an interview with the Times of London, Adar Poonawalla said he went to England to escape threats from people claiming he’s holding up vaccines.
“‘Threats’ is an understatement,” Poonawalla said. “The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented.”
“It’s overwhelming. Everyone feels they should get the vaccine. They can’t understand why anyone else should get it before them,” he added. “They are saying if you don’t give us the vaccine it’s not going to be good. It’s not foul language. It’s the tone. It’s the implication of what they might do if I don’t comply.”
Crematoriums across India are overwhelmed with bodies. Patients are dying as hospitals run out of oxygen. The country had reported more than 300,000 new cases each day for nine consecutive days before hitting the 400,000 mark.
India also reported more than 3,500 deaths on Saturday – the fourth day in a row that death counts have surpassed 3,000. Those numbers are likely an undercount. ANew York Times investigation published this week found “mounting evidence” that suggested fatalities are being “overlooked or downplayed” by the government.
The situation has gotten so bad that people have surrounded his company multiple times and called him a “profiteer” of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“I don’t think even God could have forecast it was going to get this bad,” Poonawalla said in the interview.
Insider’s Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed to this report.
ANew York Times investigation published this week found “mounting evidence” that suggested fatalities are being “overlooked or downplayed” by the government.
“It’s a complete massacre of data,” Bhramar Mukherjee, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, told the Times. “From all the modeling we’ve done, we believe the true number of deaths is two to five times what is being reported.”
Experts interviewed by Reuters have suggested the death toll could even be between five to 10 times higher than what is being reported.
A Sky News investigation found that deaths were being underreported in several crematoriums across the capital, New Dehli. Funeral workers told Sky News that they’ve “been told to give [lower] numbers by higher authorities.”
Dr Manas Gumta, the general secretary of the Association of Health Service Doctors, West Bengal, told the Observer this week: “A huge suspected COVID-positive population is certainly staying away from the tests. I believe the actual number of people dying of COVID is two to three times higher than what the government is reporting.”
As COVID-19 deaths surge in the country, crematory workers say they have become overburdened.
Some cities have turned parks and parking lots into makeshift crematoriums to keep up with the abundance of bodies.
In the Seemapuri crematorium in New Dehli, the staff has been so overwhelmed they’ve launched a ticketing system, CNN reported.
Jitender Signh Shunty, who runs a service in New Dehli, told Insider he’s getting only two hours of sleep a night.
“These days I don’t even get two hours of sleep,” he said. “At 7 a.m. I come here, I start dispatching ambulances, or I arrange for a dead body to be picked up, then get it cremated.”
Shunty, who says he used to only cremate 10 bodies a day, now estimates that number to be around 90.
“I can work 21 out of 24 hours a day – I am not the kind of person who breaks down easily,” Shunty added. “But in this wave of the coronavirus, I’ve seen the dead bodies of small children and women who have become widows at a young age. They all have died for no good reason.”
At the time of writing, India has reported more than 19 million cases and more than 211,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to a tracker by Johns Hopkins University.
Indian food-delivery firm Zomato, backed by billionaire Jack Ma’s Ant Group and Uber, plans to raise up to 82.5 billion rupees ($1.1 billion) via an initial public offering in what would be the country’s largest stock-market listing this year.
The startup’s initial prospectus filed with the Securities and Exchange Board of India this week showed it plans to issue new shares to raise 75 billion rupees ($1.01 billion), while its top shareholder Info Edge India will offer shares worth 7.5 billion rupees ($101.2 million).
The company’s listing plans come as India combats a crippling coronavirus wave, with at least 300,000 new infections being recorded every day in the past week. Official fatalities have topped 200,000 as of Thursday, but the real number is thought to be far higher as the country’s health infrastructure appears to be collapsing under the volume of new cases.
Re-enforced lockdowns across the country have driven many Indian consumers to shift their spending online. Zomato, which serves around 70 million customers each month, saw its revenue grow 5.5 times between 2018 and 2020, after recording its highest-ever order value in history during the pandemic.
“The accelerated growth of our business stemming from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may not continue in the future,” the company said in its prospectus.
Zomato was founded as “Foodiebay” in 2008 by Deepinder Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah, the entrepreneurial alumni of the prestigious technical university IIT. What began as a weekend project for them grew into a well-known unicorn now present in 24 countries. At its last fundraising round in February, the company was valued at $5.4 billion.
Both the US and the UK have also seen food-delivery companies capitalizing on the stay-at-home environment during the pandemic with Deliveroo, DoorDash, and Grab all launching IPOs in the past six months.
In the next few weeks, more than half of Americans will have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. In much of the developing world, if current trends hold, people will be lucky to get a shot by 2022 – all the more reason, a group of US senators say, that pharmaceutical companies should be sharing their know-how and hastening the end to this global health crisis.
Sharing intellectual property, “such as vaccine recipes and manufacturing information… could drastically expand vaccine development and access,” states a letter to Pfizer, sent Wednesday and signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Edward Markey, Tammy Baldwin, Jeff Merkley, and Christopher Murphy, all Democrats.
In their letter, the lawmakers ask the pharmaceutical giant whether it has shared any of its proprietary knowledge with a group set up by the World Trade Organization for that purpose – and, specifically, whether it plans to partner with any companies in India to produce its highly effective mRNA vaccine.
The lawmakers sent identical letters to both Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.
Crisis in India spurs calls for action
India, which manufactures the AstraZeneca vaccine, has seen a major spike in COVID-19 cases, in part due to limited vaccination, as well as the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s poor handling of the crisis. Doctors in India have accused Modi of being a “super spreader” for holding major political rallies in the weeks preceding the latest surge, with a record 357,700 new cases reported on Wednesday. The government has also been faulted for failing to secure enough emergency oxygen for local hospitals.
But there is little doubt that, the failings of governments aside, wider production of COVID-19 vaccines could ameliorate the pandemic and help limit the spread of new, potentially more dangerous variants.
Developing nations, as well as former world leaders and Nobel laureates, have been urging President Joe Biden to sign off on a WTO waiver that would allow countries such as India and South Africa to put US intellectual property to use without fear of repercussion. Industry groups have argued that such a waiver would discourage private innovation.
Moderna has said it will not enforce its vaccine patents, although that does not appear to be sufficient reassurance for WTO members to begin unauthorized production.
Sharing intellectual property would not immediately address the current wave of infection, but Suhaib Siddiqi, the company’s former director of chemistry, told the Associated Press that a modern factory would be able to begin producing the company’s vaccine in less than four months.
Earlier this week, the Biden administration, which along with the European Union has thus far declined to back the campaign for a WTO waiver, said it would begin sharing its supply of AstraZeneca doses with India as soon as possible.
US pharmaceutical companies, meanwhile, say they will be drafting a response to the lawmakers’ questions.
“We are committed to the health and safety of people worldwide and look forward to replying to the senators’ letter,” Lisa Cannellos, a spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson, told Insider.
A spokesperson for Pfizer confirmed receipt of the letter but declined to comment.
The lawmakers have requested that answers be provided no later than May 11.
My heart ran cold as the doctor sent us a message on WhatsApp about my father’s deteriorating condition. “He has an inflammation in his lungs – given his age and medical history – you should be prepared to hospitalize him.”
My father has Parkinson’s, a heart condition, weak lungs and high blood pressure. I kept thinking: “Where am I going to get a bed? Or oxygen?”
On April 15, my 75-year-old parents, 15-year-old-son, and I tested positive for coronavirus. We were shocked. We were extremely cautious when it came to protecting ourselves from COVID-19, however it did not seem enough in the face of the the rising infection rate in India.
But as a doctor friend later would tell me: “The way things are right now, you could test a random person on the street and he or she would possibly test positive.”
If India escaped COVID-19 relatively lightly last year, we are living a nightmare in this second wave.
On Tuesday, India announced it recorded 323,144 new cases, and 2,771 deaths in the previous 24 hours. On Monday, for the fifth straight day, the country set a new global record for daily cases in the pandemic.
In Noida, the satellite town of the capital New Delhi where we live, there is also a huge shortage of beds and oxygen. Hospitals have been sending out urgent appeals for oxygen.
My social media feed has been one long ream of urgent pleas from friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers. Someone’s friend, someone’s sister, someone’s father or mother or grandparent need help.
For the first two days after our positive tests, we anxiously monitored my father. At first, he had no obvious symptoms. But then his oxygen levels were dropping consistently.
My heart was in turmoil. I thought that, if his condition continued to deteriorate, I would not be able to wheel him into a hospital to get him the required care.
On the evening of April 17, I messaged our family doctor with our blood reports and told her that my father’s saturation levels were fluctuating below 94. She gave a list of hospitals I should call to get him admitted. And then she was gone. Doctors are severely overworked, too.
After half a day of calling, I was at my wit’s end. No one had a bed available.
The next two days went by in a frenzy of friends trying to help with leads. As I chased hospitals, an acquaintance suggested I get in touch with her friend, a lung doctor. She suggested I immediately get a scan done to see what condition his lungs were in.
I’d tested positive but no one was coming to help my father. No one from the authorities has called to check on us, nor has any health worker visited. I was desperate and so I decided to head out, in my COVID positive state, to get him the care he needed.
On April 20, still weak from my own infection, I somehow hauled him onto his wheelchair and took him to a nearby COVID-19 hospital.
As an attendant wheeled my father into the scan room, I sank into a chair in the waiting area.
I saw it fill up with patients. It was 7 a.m. but there were already at least 10 people waiting for their scans. When I went back in the afternoon to collect the report on my father, the number had more than doubled.
“Are there any beds available at all?” I asked the chief medical officer, feebly, knowing she would say no. She looked at me with kindness, and sadness. I managed a small smile, too.
I brought my father back home that day. My fingers had remained tightly crossed through the day as I hoped for his condition to remain stable.
Friends and acquaintances, even sources and professional contacts, called and offered to help but I knew we were as helpless as each other. I drew some strength from their concern.
On the evening of April 21, I consulted the lung doctor once again with the test results. She confirmed that my father had inflammation in his lungs and I should start looking for a hospital bed.
“I know how difficult that would be at the moment,” she said. “But let’s hope he responds to the medicines.”
Her hospital had no beds available either.
I lost count of the calls I made that evening. Everything was full. I would get a lead and dial the number. They either wouldn’t pick up, the number wouldn’t connect or the lines would be perpetually busy. I gave up after a while.
“Whatever the emergency, we will have to deal with it at the time,” I told my mother. She nodded quietly.
Over the last few days, however, my father started responding to the medicines. He began to talk coherently. He sat up and began eating. And most importantly, his oxygen levels stabilized.
He has made it through. But if his condition had worsened, I don’t know what we could have done.
I’ve seen what happens when a broken system is overwhelmed
I am still holding onto that list of hospitals and medical resources I made. I am keeping my fingers crossed that my parents will be able to get the second dose of their vaccines without much trouble.
But I have seen what happens when a broken system is overwhelmed.
The tragedy that’s unfolding here is the world’s biggest COVID-19 crisis since the pandemic began more than a year ago. As I write this, an oxygen express train, the first one of its kind and carrying 70 tonnes of the gas, has reached Delhi.
Countries across the world are lending a hand. The Indian government announced on Sunday that they would be setting up 551 oxygen plants.
Why did we not boost our capabilities before? The oxygen plants could have been set up while cases were plummeting. Global trends should have taught us the second wave would be worse than the first one. There are going to be more until the world is vaccinated.
From May 1, anyone over 18 will be able to get vaccinated. The government will have to ramp up vaccine production urgently. Over the last few weeks, many states have reported shortages.
Why was the Indian government so desperate to announce an end to the pandemic? Only last month, the health minister – himself a doctor – said India was approaching the “end game” of COVID-19.
On April 17 – when I was anxiously watching my father’s oxygen levels deteriorate – Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at an election rally in West Bengal, praising the size of the crowd that was too big for anyone to socially distance.
On Monday, I walked into a small crematorium near my home, where there were seven pyres burning. There were no hospital staff or health workers to certify the causes of their deaths, so we won’t know how many were because of COVID-19.
One local told me: “I have never seen so many bodies burning here at the same time.”