Bill Gates speaks at a Covid-19 virtual conference hosted by the International Aids Society. July 11, 2020
Handout from the International Aids Society
Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates said Johnson & Johnson and Novavax’s Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be an essential tool against new, emerging variants of the virus – even though the companies have stated their shots may have been against a strain found in South Africa are less effective.
On Jan. 28, Novavax announced that its vaccine was nearly 90% effective against Covid-19 in its Phase 3 study conducted in the UK, but had a muted response in South Africa, with an effectiveness rate of only 49.4% below 44 cases in the country. A day later, J&J said its vaccine was 66% effective overall, but only 57% effective in South Africa, where strain B.1.351 is spreading rapidly.
Gates, whose foundation has donated millions to research into coronavirus vaccines and treatments, told CNBC that the two vaccines, which are not yet approved for use in the United States, still have “high potency against” variants.
People understand that “although Novavax and Johnson & Johnson still have a lot of ability against these variants, the effectiveness is diminished,” he told CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin in an interview that aired on Squawk Box Thursday.
Gates wondered if a third dose of a vaccine would be enough to protect against new variants.
“There is a rich dialogue between our foundation, Dr. [Anthony] Fauci and the other government officials are currently discussing this variant of the strategy, “said Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and co-founder of Microsoft.
Gates’ comments come as US officials urge Americans to get vaccinated as soon as possible before potentially new and even more dangerous variants of the virus emerge.
As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had identified 1,277 cases of variant B.1.1.7, first identified in the UK. The agency has identified 19 cases of the B.1.351 strain from South Africa and three cases of P .1, a variant first identified in Brazil.
The US must deploy Covid-19 vaccines quickly and speed up the genetic sequencing of variants before the virus can mutate again and make the pandemic worse, the CDC head said in an article published Wednesday.
Variant B.1.1.7 has proven to be highly transferable. “Preliminary data suggest the possibility of increased disease severity with infection,” wrote CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a research report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA.
Fauci, the White House chief medical officer and the country’s leading infectious disease expert, has stated repeatedly over the past few weeks that viruses cannot mutate unless they have hosts to infect and cannot replicate.
Fauci also recently touted J & J’s vaccine. Although it appeared to be less effective than Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it was nonetheless able to keep people out of the hospital and prevent them from getting seriously ill.
“The most important thing, more important than whether you prevent someone from getting a pain and a sore throat, is to prevent people from getting serious illnesses,” said the director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases when he called reporters on Jan. January “This will alleviate so much stress and human suffering and death in this epidemic.
Gates was also confident that nations and drug manufacturers could step up production so that there would be enough doses to immunize the world. He added that the “shots in developing countries” will be the “only way to end the pandemic”.