Bill Gates worries about the implications of the baseless anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories targeting him and Dr. Anthony Fauci that have emerged during the coronavirus pandemic, telling CNBC they can erode confidence in public health strategies.
In an interview that aired Wednesday on “Squawk Box,” Gates said the false claims about him and Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, may have implications in getting the public to adopt measures such as vaccines and face coverings that can help slow transmission of the virus.
“The whole digital media space where people are dealing with the bad news, the pandemic, has spun up a lot of conspiracy theories,” the billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder said. “And the two people who are most targeted in those are Dr. Fauci and myself, in terms of, ‘Do we have some sort of maligned reason to think vaccines are important in general?'”
“That’s unfortunate, particularly if it undermines the mask wearing or if it undermines, as the vaccine gets approved, … [how] people not only protect themselves, but protect their loved ones, protect the community by participating in something that’s proven to be safe?” added Gates, whose charitable foundation has contributed millions of dollars to coronavirus vaccine and treatment research.
Gates’ interview ran one day after Facebook announced it was implementing a new global policy that bans any advertisements that seek to discourage people from receiving vaccinations. Previously, the social media giant’s policy restricted ads for vaccine hoaxes that had been singled out by health groups such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gates said he has not spoken to Fauci about the conspiracy theories because “neither he and I have know how to stop that.” But Gates said he and his staff at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have regular conversations with the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases about the development of therapies for Covid-19.
“[Fauci] and I talk about the antibody studies. The scientific team at the foundation gets on the phone with him on a regular basis because he’s seeing company innovations that we’re not, we’re seeing things that he’s not because we have a global view,” Gates said. “It’s a helpful collaboration, which we’ve always had.”
Gates also lamented the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly the lack of support lent to the scientific community. “Most governments take advantage of their scientists and listen to them. They don’t undermine them and attack them,” he told CNBC.
He wondered why some people in the U.S. are pushing back on masks so much. “We tell people to wear clothes. I don’t think of it as some ultra-important, freedom thing, that there’s another part of your body, at least for the duration of the pandemic, we’re asking you to cover up most of the time.”