Colbert starts off the interview by asking a question that’s on all of our minds: How long will we have to live the way we are now?
Ever the pragmatist, Gates offered up a measured response: “There are two ways out, one is if we get miracle therapeutics that are greater than 95% cure rate. We can’t count on that. The other is a vaccine that’s highly effective that we get out to the world population. Some of these vaccines — we’ll understand by this summer, we’ll see because they’re going into humans now — we’ll see if they get this strong antibody response. And then we have to do broad safety testing and get the manufacturing going. So even a year from now, even if everything went perfectly… we could start the manufacturing.”
He allows that if it’s harder to land on an effective vaccine, the timeline could stretch to two years, but offers up a ray of hope: “Every day when I see the engagement of the vaccine groups, I actually think, ‘Wow, we can surprise people on the upside here.’ I have been saying 18 months, but some of these vaccines are ahead of that schedule.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations’ Therapeutics Accelerator program has been working hard on finding a vaccine for COVID-19, with musicians like Madonna donating $1 million to research efforts. Gates told Colbert that his foundation is currently at work on 7 vaccines and that, overall, more than 100 vaccines are being tested. “There’s almost too many in a way,” he said.
In a 2015 TED Talk, Gates practically predicted the COVID-19 outbreak. Earlier this month, he stopped by The Daily Show to reflect on his Nostradamus moment: “One thing I feel good about is — this is such a big change to the world — that this time it won’t be like Ebola, which was just there in West Africa or Central Africa,” he said. “This time, the tens of billions [of dollars] to have the diagnostics standing by, the manufacturing standing by, this time we will get ready for the next epidemic.”
Colbert asked Gates to take a look into the future once more, and Gate’s rather bleak message sent the host into a fit of nervous laughter: “I didn’t want to be right,” he said of his TED Talk. Then launched into a description of a possible bioterrorist attack.
“The good news — I’m not trying to depress you — is most of the work we’re going to do to be ready for pandemic two — I call this pandemic one — most of the work we’ll do to be ready for that are also the things we need to do to minimize the threat of bioterrorism,” he added, leaving the interview on a high(?) note.