Among COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, Bill Gates is legend. He has been the subject of several false narratives that either blame him for the outbreak or accuse him of trying to profit from it. None of these stories are true, even though they continue to proliferate on YouTube, Facebook, and darker corners of the internet.
In a press call yesterday, the Microsoft founder finally responded to the conspiracies about him, which relate to his donation of hundreds of millions of dollars for the development and production of a COVID-19 vaccine. “The misinformation thing is just so weird,” he said. “Most of the people I talk to aren’t the ones who are subject to that, so I don’t have any direct connection to it to understand it.”
Gates’s contributions to COVID-19 vaccine research include giving the Coalition for Economic Preparedness Innovations and the Gavi Alliance funding to support a $750 million deal with drug maker AstraZeneca for 300 million doses of a vaccine based on research from the University of Oxford.
The billionaire has been actively supporting the dissemination of vaccines globally for more than a decade, in part through his work with the Gavi Alliance, a collaboration between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization. Yesterday, the Gates Foundation announced a $1.6 billion donation to Gavi. The alliance is also getting a $100 million commitment from the Gates Foundation to help low-income countries access an eventual COVID-19 vaccine. On a call announcing the funding, Gates took a moment to address the conspiracy theories circling around the web.
“In a way, it’s so bizarre, you almost want to view it as something humorous, but I guess it’s really not a humorous thing. I’ve never been involved in any sort of microchip-type thing,” he said, according to the New York Post. “It’s almost hard to deny this stuff because it’s so stupid or strange that to even repeat it almost seems to give it credibility.” The “microchip-type thing” he refers to is a conspiracy theory that Gates is developing an implantable device related to COVID-19 (he’s not). The only health related “microchip” the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has previously invested in, is a reversible birth control microchip.
The Gates conspiracies are part of a larger swirl of misinformation surrounding COVID-19. Much of the disinformation discredits a future vaccine for the coronavirus as part of an overall anti-vaccination agenda. There have been still other false narratives that question the natural origins of the virus, suggesting it was made in a lab.
At the end of his comments, he noted that he didn’t think that such conspiracy theories were having a broad effect in terms of dissuading people from getting an eventual vaccine. Of course, he acknowledged that if these narratives did have an impact and not enough people were inoculated against the virus, there could be a problem. According to Gates, we’re not there yet.
Updated 6/9/2020: This article has been updated to clarify investments made by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.