Science

Towards a new pandemic? Bill Gates Warning

The anecdote is known – and it warmed up all the fantasies of the conspirators. During a TED talk in 2015, Bill Gates predicted the imminent emergence of an uncontrolled pandemic. He was particularly concerned about the emergence of the virus “where infected people feel healthy and fly or go to the supermarket” and denounced our unpreparedness in the face of this threat. Unfortunately, Covid proved him right. At the time, there was really nothing particularly original about this grim omen: many scholars had long held the same discourse. Nevertheless, when a billionaire prophesies again, we inevitably listen. More precisely, we dive into his latest book, which is coming out these days in France, with a very instructive title: How to Avoid the Next Pandemic*.

In 2015, Bill Gates burst onto the scene with a barrel that looked like a container of nuclear material, explaining that as a child, nuclear war was his biggest fear, not the virus. For him, the fears were no longer the same, because the world was investing in containment, not in preventing epidemics. Today, containment has failed and the nuclear threat has returned. But this new epidemic has not disappeared. To remind you how vulnerable we are, the former Microsoft boss details his concerns about the future.

Smallpox, the “terrifying” microbe

The list is long. Starting with the emergence of the option “more contagious, more dangerous or evading acquired immunity.” Unless a new virus emerges that could be completely different: “targeting younger people more than older people,” but also more lethal and more contagious, with new ways of spreading, against which messenger RNA vaccines won’t work. But it could be much worse, he warns: “a disease agent deliberately used to kill or maim a significant number of people,” in other words, bioterrorism.

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The ideal candidate is the smallpox virus, which has now been eradicated, but “whose samples are stored in government laboratories in the United States or Russia (and possibly in other countries)”. The “terrifying” microbe, he recalls, because it spreads rapidly through the air, kills a third of those infected, and we are no longer immune to it: “If a nation-state or even a small group of terrorists engineered a smallpox strain that was resistant to treatment and vaccines, it could kill over a billion people.”

Faced with these potential disasters, the former Microsoft boss once again denounces our lack of preparation. He is also concerned that the world is rapidly shifting “to other issues and that pandemic prevention is once again falling by the wayside.” In fact, the outbreak of war in Ukraine just weeks after his book was written already seems to prove him right. However, there is still much to be done. Recalling the lessons of Covid, Bill Gates details in eight very detailed chapters the steps to take: roll out tests, convince as many people as possible to wear a mask, give yourself the means to find new people much faster. y treatment, training for vaccine production, training in large-scale exercises, strengthening health systems around the world, and especially in poor countries. He also envisions the creation of an international group responsible for overseeing this training, which he names evocatively: “The Fetus”.

“We are not doomed to live in fear of another epidemic,” insists the president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But at the conclusion of his book, rather the opposite feeling prevails, as the gap seems huge between his prescriptions and what governments plan to implement on the ground. If maybe his message is not heard more than in 2015…

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*Bill Gates, Avoiding the Next Pandemic, 384 pages, Flammarion, €21.90.

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