Perhaps the only thing spreading faster than COVID-19 over the past year has been the misinformation surrounding the pandemic that has now infected more than 100 million people worldwide.
And this includes a baseless conspiracy theory suggesting that billionaire tech whiz-turned-philanthropist Bill Gates and U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci actually helped create the pandemic as a means of controlling people — you know, by inserting microchips into people when they get their vaccines.
“Nobody would have predicted that I and Dr. Fauci would be so prominent in these really evil theories,” the Microsoft /zigman2/quotes/207732364/composite MSFT +1.91% co-founder tells Reuters in a new interview , calling the misinformation going viral on social media over the past year “crazy conspiracy theories.”
“I’m very surprised by that,” he adds. “I hope it goes away.”
“Nobody would have predicted that I and Dr. Fauci would be so prominent in these really evil theories … do people really believe that stuff?”
Gates has been debunking such accusations since last summer, when he told CBS Evening News that, “There’s no connection between any of these vaccines and any tracking type thing at all. I don’t know where that came from.”
Gates and wife Melinda, who head the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, reported in their annual letter released on Wednesday that their philanthropic platform has given at least $1.75 billion to the global COVID-19 response over the past year, which has been used to back vaccine development, supply medical equipment and personal protective equipment, and to fund research into potential coronavirus treatments.
The Gates letter also laid out strategies for preventing the next pandemic, and resolving “immunity inequality” that could see wealthy countries and communities snapping up all of the COVID-19 vaccines, leaving more vulnerable populations unable to get the lifesaving shots.
But when it comes to stopping the spread of conspiracy theories, Gates says that, “We’re really going to have to get educated about this over the next year and understand … how does [misinformation] change peoples’ behavior and how should we have minimized this?”
He sounds optimistic that new President Joe Biden’s administration could get the country on the right track, however. Gates tells Reuters that during the Trump administration, it sometimes seemed like Fauci and Francis Collins, the head of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, were “the only sane people in the U.S. government.”
“I’m excited about the team that Biden has picked” to respond to the COVID-19 health crisis, Gates says, because “he’s appointed smart people” and “Dr. Fauci won’t be suppressed.”
Indeed, the Biden administration is bringing back regular White House coronavirus briefings. It has also taken aggressive executive action against the virus since Inauguration Day, such as creating the position of a COVID-19 response coordinator; tapping the Defense Production Act to fill supply shortfalls; and requiring that face masks be worn on federal property.
Fauci has also appeared more relaxed in his first few media briefings since Biden took office, admitting in one White House press conference that it was “uncomfortable” being in a position to contradict former President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 claims before, and that it’s “liberating” to “let the science speak” under Biden.
Biden is also pressing Congress to approve a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which includes $1,400 stimulus checks. And on Tuesday he announced that the U.S. plans to buy another 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to get more Americans vaccinated against the virus.