Bill Gates calls inequitable worldwide access to COVID-19 vaccines a ‘public health tragedy’

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Dr. Onyimbo Kerama, lead consultant and executive director at Motire Occupational Health and Safety Solutions In Thika, Kenya, uses a LumiraDx diagnostic instrument to test for COVID-19. (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Photo)

As people in the United States debate COVID-19 vaccine mandates, a new report from the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a reminder that many people around the world still can’t get the shot even if they want it.

“The lack of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is a public health tragedy,” says Bill Gates in a statement accompanying the release of the Gates Foundation’s annual Goalkeepers report, which has tracked the world’s progress toward the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for the past five years.

The latest report, released Monday night, was authored by Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates as co-chairs of the foundation. They are continuing to lead the Gates Foundation in those roles for a two-year trial period following their divorce.

COVID-19 is a central topic of the report, which cites the “unprecedented” development of multiple vaccines in less than a year, vs. the normal timeline of 10 to 15 years. At the same time, the report notes, more than 80% of COVID-19 vaccines so far have been administered in high-income and upper-middle-income countries.

“Some have secured two to three times the number of doses needed to cover their populations, in case boosters are needed for increasingly infectious variants,” write Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates in the report. “Meanwhile, less than 1% of doses have been administered in low-income countries. These inequities are a profound moral outrage—and raise the very real risk that high-income countries and communities will begin to treat COVID-19 as another epidemic of poverty: Not our problem.”

Bill Gates warned repeatedly about the risk of inequitable vaccine distribution last year as vaccines were being developed.

“We can’t put the pandemic behind us until everyone, regardless of where they live, has access to vaccines,” he said in his statement released along with the latest Goalkeepers report.

The Gates Foundation has committed about $1.7 billion to efforts to fight COVID-19 and distribute vaccines globally in the last 18 months.

An additional 30 million people fell into extreme poverty in the past year, reversing many recent gains, according to statistics cited in the report. In addition, the report underscores the impact of the pandemic on education and gender equality around the world.

Mark Suzman, the Gates Foundation CEO, told reporters in a conference call that now is the time not only to address current inequities in COVID-19 vaccines but also to prepare for the future through initiatives such as genomic surveillance that cuts across different countries.

Suzman cited the need for “global instead of national and regional infrastructures that make sure we never face this kind of crisis again.”

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Melinda French Gates cheers on future son-in-law at Olympics as he competes in equestrian for Egypt

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Nayel Nassar and Jennifer Gates, oldest daughter of Bill and Melinda French Gates. (Instagram Photo via @nayelnassar)

Melinda French Gates is paying special attention to the Tokyo Olympics this week as her future son-in-law represents Eqypt in equestrian competition.

French Gates tweeted Tuesday about Nayel Nassar, the fiancé of her and Bill Gates’ oldest daughter, Jennifer Gates. French Gates said she was proud of the professional show jumper … and his horse, Igor.

Nassar, 30, competed in the individual jumping event final this week and finished 24th. Ben Maher of Great Britain took the gold medal. On Instagram, Nassar said it was “not our day,” but he was happy with how comfortable he and Igor felt on “the biggest track of our lives.” He’ll be competing in the team competition later this week.

It’s the first time Eqypt’s equestrian team has qualified for the Olympics in 61 years.

Born in Chicago in 1991, Nassar’s website bio says he was raised by Egyptian parents in Kuwait. He began riding horses at five and has had success in international competitions.

He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in economics in 2013.

Gates, 25, also graduated from Stanford, with a degree in human biology in 2018, and she’s now pursuing a medical degree from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Gates and Nassar got engaged in January 2020 during a ski vacation and her Instagram is loaded with images of the couple and their shared love for horses.

Gates is also an equestrian competitor and is the founder of Evergate Stables, a Florida-based international show jumping stable. Nassar rides for Evergate’s team.

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Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott give $40M to boost groups working on gender equality

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MacKenzie Scott, left, and Melinda French Gates. (Photos via Bystander Revolution and Gates Foundation)

Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott are sharing some of their immense wealth with organizations that want to empower other women, announcing Thursday that they are awarding $40 million as part of the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge.

Launched last June, the philanthropic initiative received more than 550 proposals and is aimed at improving gender equality by providing grants to organizations with ideas to expand women’s power and influence in the U.S. by 2030.

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French Gates’ investment company Pivotal Ventures is hosting the Challenge, with support from Scott and husband Dan Jewett as well as Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.

“The overwhelming response to the Challenge proves there’s no shortage of transformational ideas about how to accelerate progress for women and girls,” French Gates said in a news release. “The next step is to make sure those game-changing ideas get the support they need to become fully realized and improve people’s lives.”

The four awardees are: Building Women’s Equality through Strengthening the Care Infrastructure ($10 million); Ada Developers Academy’s Changing the Face of Tech ($10 million); Girl Inc.’s Project Accelerate: Increasing Young Women’s Power and Influence ($10 million); and The Future is Indigenous Womxn ($10 million).

Seattle-based Ada Developers Academy said the funding will allow the organization to expand across the country, adding locations in five new regions. The tuition-free software development boot camp for women and underrepresented sexual, gender and racial minorities was founded in 2013 and has a mission to diversify the tech industry.

An additional $8 million in supplemental funding was split between two other finalists working on building women’s economic and political power: FreeFrom’s A Call to Action: Holding Society Accountable for Intimate Partner Violence; and IGNITE’s Training Next Gen Women to Flex Their Political Power.

Scott, ranked No. 17 on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, has a net worth of $64.1 billion. The former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos most recently gave away $2.74 billion to 286 organizations focused on promoting equity, alleviating poverty and promoting education and the arts. Her total philanthropic outlay totals more than $8 billion.

“The awardees are strong teams working on the front lines and from within communities to help women build power in their lives and careers,” Scott said in a stement. “And best of all, they’re not alone. This challenge received so many bold ideas to activate new levers, remove old barriers, and push forward for gender equality. It’s exciting to see all the ways people are making a difference.”

French Gates has a net worth of $3.3 billion according to Forbes. Gender equity and women’s issues have been a focus of her work and giving at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and at Pivotal Ventures.

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