Bill Gates Warns 'Tragic' Number of Americans Likely to Die Before Vaccine Roll Out

Bill Gates has urged the public not to get complacent about COVID-19 despite multiple promising vaccine candidates announced this month.

The billionaire philanthropist, whose foundation has committed more than $350 million to the global coronavirus response, noted Thursday "several hundred thousand" lives are likely to be lost in the U.S. before vaccine coverage is widespread.

While Gates forecasts the pandemic situation is likely to have improved by next summer, he said people will need to abide by established health guidelines—lockdowns, better hygiene and the wearing of face-coverings—in the coming months.

Speaking with CNN host Anderson Cooper, Gates said a possibility of vaccines should ideally get people to be on their "best behavior" until coverage is high, and he agreed it was a danger some may see still-unproven treatments as a "silver bullet."

"We are likely to get 2000 deaths a day in January and February, so up to about a peak level. And it is tragic," Gates said in an interview, warning of surging cases.

"It's going to add up to several hundred thousand lives lost just in the U.S. alone. And we will look back and say why couldn't we convince people to just stay the course until we got up to that very high vaccination level, which will probably be late Spring."

U.S. health experts and pharmaceutical companies developing the vaccine candidates estimate that doses could be available by the end of this year, however a widespread roll out will take place in 2021. Many countries have pre-orders in place.

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Thursday their candidate, BNT162b2, appeared to be 95 percent effective for treating COVID-19, the disease that is now responsible for more than 11 million cases and at least 252,000 deaths in the U.S. They said up to 50 million doses could be made in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.

On Monday, pharmaceutical firm Moderna said its candidate, mRNA-1273, had shown an efficacy of 94.5 percent. Moderna said 20 million doses could be ready by the year's end, with between 500 million and 1 billion doses possible globally in 2021.

As case numbers spike, more than 2,000 U.S. deaths were recorded on Thursday this week, according to data released by Johns Hopkins University.

The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation warned more than 2,300 Americans could be dying daily by December 18, CNN reported.

There are currently 11 vaccines in the "advanced trial" stage, with five in phase 3 trials in the U.S., according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and public face of the White House coronavirus task force.

Fauci spoke with Gates and actor Rashida Jones in a podcast earlier this week, in which the health expert said getting back to normal would not be "for a while" and noted some U.S. citizens are currently facing "fatigue" with the ongoing pandemic situation.

He, too, advised citizens not to get complacent, saying people need to understand the virus, ensuing the health crisis is "not going to spontaneously go away."

"You absolutely have to do things that sound so simple that people think they're maybe not relevant. Wearing a mask, keeping a distance, avoiding crowds, being outdoors as much as you possibly can, weather permitted, and washing your hands," Fauci said.

"We have seen what happens when you don't by the very unfortunate experiences that have become public now in the United States. I mean, that's proof positive."

He added: "This is going to end. Science is going to help us with a vaccine and therapy, and if we pay attention to the public health measures we can gain control of it."

Gates told Cooper the situation will likely have improved by next summer, assuming the vaccines are approved and the U.S. can manage distribution. "Good news should pull us together... it is a bit of a sacrifice, but we will get back to normal," he said.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has worked on global vaccine distribution for many years and played a key role in the near-total eradication of Polio. It has allocated millions of dollars to support the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines to lower-income countries.

"Effective vaccines will end this crisis sooner," the Gates foundation explained in an FAQ about its mission. "Our aim is to speed up research and development for COVID-19 vaccines and make them accessible and affordable for as many as possible."

On November 12, the foundation announced that it was committing another $70 million to "global efforts to develop and distribute safe, affordable, and timely vaccines."

Of that, a $20 million grant was given to to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to help "jumpstart" development of more of the promising vaccine candidates "as the first wave conclude their clinical trials and file for approval."

Bill Gates
Co-Founder of Microsoft and co-Chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, is answers questions during an interview on October 18, 2018. Gates has urged Americans not to get complacent about fighting the coronavirus. Thierry Monasse/Getty