Bill Gates is spending $150 million to try to make a coronavirus vaccine as cheap as $3

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A lot of people are paying attention to every utterance from Bill Gates, America’s billionaire-cum-conscience in the coronavirus era, about the United States’s response to the pandemic. But much less attention is paid to what Gates is actually pouring his fortune into: steeling the rest of the world for the coronavirus vaccine they will need next year.

Gates on Friday said that he and his foundation would spend $150 million to distribute vaccines, if they are found, to some of the world’s poorest people. It’s one of the largest financial commitments for coronavirus response to date from Gates, the world’s second-richest person. The Gates Foundation is handing the money to the Serum Institute, the largest manufacturer of vaccines globally by volume, to produce 100 million doses that would cost at most just $3 each.

Gates has been among the foremost leaders on vaccine production over the last two decades, spending $4 billion on the global vaccine development effort known as Gavi. And for months, the billionaire has expressed profound worries that while rich countries may fare okay at surviving the coronavirus, that the pandemic will devastate poor countries that can’t afford to administer the treatment, whenever it arrives.

“We’re trying to make sure we can end it not just in the rich countries,” Gates said in an interview with Bloomberg this week, stressing that he is focusing on the vaccines in development that would be affordable in the developing world, such as those being pursued by the pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Novavax. “Those are the ones most scalable and low-cost.”

What Gates is essentially doing is deploying his bank account to set a “ceiling price” for the vaccines being developed by those two companies. Serum is preparing to manufacture those vaccines for India, where Serum is based, and up to 91 other poor or middle-income countries.

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