Saturday, June 12

Bill Gates is on a quest to vaccinate the world. Can he do it?


The head of one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers had a problem. Adar Poonawalla, chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, needed $850 million for everything from glass vials to stainless steel vats so he could begin producing doses of promising coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poor.

Mr. Poonawalla calculated that he could risk $300 million of his company’s money but would still be more than a half-billion dollars short. So he looked to a retired software executive in Seattle.

Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder turned philanthropist, had known Mr. Poonawalla for years. Mr. Gates had spent billions to help bring vaccines to the developing world, working closely with pharmaceutical executives to transform the market. In doing so, he became the most powerful — and provocative — private player in global health.

By the end of their conversation this summer, Mr. Gates had made a promise: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would provide a $150 million guarantee so the Indian factory could move ahead with production.

If the initiative, aided by Mr. Gates’s fortune and focus, manages to help protect the world’s poor from a virus that has already killed more than 1.3 million people, it will affirm the strategies he has promoted in his philanthropic work, including incentives for drug companies.

If the endeavor falls short, however, it could intensify calls for a more radical approach.



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