Let's ask Bill Gates

Quick follow up on yesterday. If you liked the eclipse photo, you can find out more about the photographer, Jon Carmichael, here. You can also order a print. I have one, it’s pretty amazing.

Also, about the free apartment we have for a medical professional in New York City: In less than 24 hours, I think we might have found someone. But feel free to email me with alternates; it’s not a done deal yet.


I’ve been thinking about Bill Gates lately. Quite a few people have.

I’ve written a lot about him over the years. This past weekend, I wrote for Inc.com about his plan to spend billions building seven vaccine manufacturing facilities, despite knowing that five of them will be more or less wasted.

The reason is simple: We need the facilities to be ready as soon as the most promising Covid-19 vaccines are identified, and there are now at least seven key efforts underway.

But, we don’t know which ones will still seem most promising months from now. As Gates put it on The Daily Show:

“Even though we'll end up picking at most two of them, we're going to fund factories for all seven just so we don't waste time in serially saying, 'OK, which vaccine works?' And then building the factory.”

I don’t have any more details. Nobody seems to, really—where these things will be built, when, how many billions is “billions?” etc.

But, Gates has been weighing in on this whole pandemic for years and years before it happened.

He put up $100 million for coronavirus research starting in January, before most people in the U.S. were paying close attention. And, if you look back in his history, there’s a date I like to point to: March 18, 2015, to be exact.

On that single day, he…

  • … posted a blog on his GatesNotes website: "We're Not Ready for the Next Epidemic."

  • … ran an op-ed in the New York Times: "How to Fight the Next Epidemic"

  • … published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine (.pdf link): "Gates B. The next epidemic -- lessons from Ebola."     

  • … went across the border from Seattle to Vancouver to give a TED talk. Title: "The next outbreak? We're not ready."

He hit the same theme, over and over. Here’s how he started his TED talk:

"If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it's most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes. 

Now, part of the reason for this is that we've invested a huge amount in nuclear deterrents.

But we've actually invested very little in a system to stop an epidemic. We're not ready for the next epidemic." 

Gates doesn’t have medical training, although he’s been called the “world’s most powerful doctor,” because he donates more to the World Health Organization than anyone else — except the United States as a whole.

He actually out-donates the United Kingdom (well, technically his foundation does).

As a result, he has a big influence on how public health funds get spent around the world.

I’m not well-versed enough to say Gates is leading in the right direction. Like a lot of people, I’ve become an accidental armchair expert over the past few months—maybe just enough confidence and knowledge to be dangerous.

But, with 75,000 people dead so far (including 10,000 Americans), a looming economic catastrophe, and no obvious endpoint, I think people are starving for leadership.

And it’s hard to ignore the billionaire philanthropist who was screaming fire about all of this, five full years ago.

7 other things worth your time

  • America’s most influential coronavirus model just revised its estimates downward. But not every model agrees. (The Washington Post, $)

  • The UK prime minister is now in intensive care with Covid-19 after his condition “worsened,” and has signed over duties the foreign minister. (Vanity Fair)

  • Here’s some good news: car insurance rates are going down, and some people are getting big refunds, as far fewer people are driving. (NPR)

  • You know who can’t work from home? Spies. The Wall Street Journal talks about part of what they’re doing instead. (WSJ, $)

  • An estimated 30 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 have lost their jobs, at least temporarily, according to a report. (Vice News)

  • We don’t know if the NFL will start its season on time, but it’s going ahead with a virtual draft. (Yahoo Sports)

  • There were about five twists and turns in the story involving the captain of a U.S. aircraft carrier and the acting secretary of the navy Monday; here’s my best link to catch up quickly. (Axios)

Photo credit: Flickr. A few parts of today’s newsletter were published previously on Inc.com. Ideas and feedback actively solicited. If you haven’t subscribed, now’s your chance! (You can also just send an email to signup@understandably.com.)

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