The philanthropist and entrepreneur also criticises the UK government for cutting the foreign aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5%.
Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has told Sky News he remains hopeful the world will be “completely back to normal” by the end of 2022, as excess COVID-19 vaccines become available.
Speaking to the Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, the Microsoft founder pointed to the high rollout rate of coronavirus jabs in richer countries including the US and UK, helping free up doses to share with other countries.
While he did not expect COVID-19 to be stamped out by next year, he expected the number of cases to be able to be cut to “very small numbers” by the end of 2022.
The 65-year-old also insisted preparing for future pandemics was “a top priority” and expressed concern it would be forgotten about as it was in the wake of the Ebola outbreak.
However, due to the devastating global economic and human cost of the pandemic believed “that this generation will remember this”.
On the reduction to the UK overseas aid budget from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%, Mr Gates said the sooner it was restored “the better” because of its “critical importance” in tackling diseases such as polio.
He said British voters should be “very proud” of its impact, but warned this would be diminished unless the cut – made in response to the economic effects of the pandemic – was reversed.
Pressed over whether he was still confident that the world would be “completely back to normal” by the end of 2022, Mr Gates said: “Yes, I am.
“There are still some questions about how broadly the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will get used, if that’s accepted it would be very beneficial but some of the rich countries including the US and the UK, even this summer will get to high vaccination levels and that’ll free up so that we’re getting vaccines out to the entire world in late 2021 and through 2022 and so, we won’t have eradicated this disease but we’ll be able to bring it down to very small numbers by the end of 2022.”
He told Sky News: “Well, over the balance of the year, the US, the UK and others will be able to make sure that the vaccines are now going to the developing countries.
“Because many of the vaccines worked, although we are looking at some of the side effects now and making sure we can treat those and that they are very rare, that good news means we will be able to supply others… and so the places where you want to get everyone over-60 vaccinated, like South Africa, Brazil, that will become a priority just in the next three or four months.”
Mr Gates also noted the fact rich countries had prioritised themselves for vaccines was “not completely surprising”.
He said: “Because the fact of getting elderly people vaccinated in the rich countries, which actually had the pandemic worse than most of the developing countries, that was a good thing.
“The fact that now we’re vaccinating 30-year-olds in the UK and the US and we don’t have all the 60-year-olds in Brazil and South Africa (vaccinated”, that’s not fair, but within three or four months the vaccine allocation will be getting to all the countries that have the very severe epidemic.”
The entrepreneur also stressed the need to be prepared for future health crises.
Mr Gates said: “Because we didn’t practice, it’s clear that understanding variants and understanding how quickly you can do the regulatory stuff, when this comes up again, we could be a lot smarter.
“People didn’t invest enough in this risk… so I hope we keep in mind that we do need to invest and be ready for the next pandemic.”
He added: “I’m very pleased that the UK is making pandemic preparedness, both finishing this pandemic and thinking through what happens next, it’s a real priority.
“I’m worried that we’ll forget about it. The Ebola epidemic was the time I thought people would be interested and I was out talking about what we needed to do.”
But he went on: “I do think because trillions were lost, that this generation will remember this.”
Mr Gates also raised his concern about the controversial move to cut the UK foreign aid budget.
He said: “The quicker the UK can get its aid level back up to the 0.7% the better… the voters should be very proud of the impact that that has.
“It’s been the strongest proponent of getting behind vaccines and making sure we eradicate polio and with the cutbacks we won’t be able to do as much so I hope that gets restored because it is of critical importance.”