Bill Gates returned to Reddit for his 10th “Ask Me Anything” session on Thursday, answering questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, his ownership of U.S. farmland, what type of phone he uses, and more.
The Microsoft co-founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was last in front of the Reddit firing squad in March 2021, where he faced a lot of questions about meat and misinformation.
Promoting his new book “How to Prevent the Next Pandemic,” Gates gravitated toward COVID-related questions this time, although it appears no one asked him how he’s feeling, eight days after he announced that he himself had tested positive for the illness.
Aside from the pandemic and vaccines, Gates answered a question about his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, his thoughts on cryptocurrencies, and the one thing he’s bought that brought him the most joy.
Keep reading for some of the highlights:
COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines
- Quite a big chunk of the population of my country (for some reason) believes that you’re the one responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic and that you’re trying to take control of the human population by injecting chips in them through vaccines. “In 2015 I spoke out about my fears a pandemic would come up and cause tens of millions of deaths. My foundation funds vaccine research to save lives. I spend billions on vaccines and I am proud they have helped cut under-5 deaths in half over the last 20 years (from 10% to 5%). The idea of chips in the vaccines doesn’t make sense. Why would I want to know where people are? What would I do with the information?”
- Why is the COVID-19 model behaving very differently in America as compared to other countries? “The new variants come along and evade immunity from vaccination and infection. Also immunity wanes fairly quickly in the elderly. When the cases are high people do change their behavior and when they are low they go back to normal behavior. So you get huge ups and downs in the case rate driven by seasons, variants and people’s behavior. Fortunately Omicron is less fatal than previous variants.”
- Do you think there will be long-term ramifications of everyone going through covid in the next few months because people are unwilling to prevent the spread anymore? “Neither vaccination or infection prevents you from getting infected again but the disease will be milder and you will spread it less. Scientists funded by the Foundation are working on vaccines that prevent you from getting infected but those are 3-4 years away in the best case. So until then we will have to keep getting boosted (especially people who are older or who have co-morbidities).”
- How are you guys preventing further strain mutations and vaccine adaptability of viruses for the “no more pandemics” goal? “We can make vaccines that have 3 additional things: broad coverage, long duration and infection blocking. These need to be R&D priorities to prevent pandemics but they will also be super helpful for all sorts of diseases.”
- Do you have a medical degree? Then why are you getting involved in medicine? Why should your medical opinion matter? “The Foundation has a lot of Medical experts. It takes a huge range of skills to do things like Malaria eradication or Covid vaccines and therapeutics. I listen to the experts on specific medical advice. The system to prevent pandemics will require a lot more than just doctors so I wrote a book to start the discussion of what it should look like.”
- How do you see climate change happening in next 10-20 years? And how are we doing as a civilization to counter that? What’s our biggest challenge? “The key is to be able to make things like electricity, steel, cement and meat without any emissions but at a cost equal or lower than today’s cost. My efforts at Breakthrough Energy is to fund the innovators and help them scale up. I am optimistic because the progress on innovation in the last 3 years with the companies that have been funded is going very well.”
- What’s something I can do now to help with climate change? “As green products come out like electric cars or synthetic meat or heat pumps for home heating/cooling they will cost a bit extra. By buying these products you drive scaling up which will lead to lower prices so “green premiums” are reduced. Other than your political voice or influencing the company you work at this is probably the biggest thing you can do.”
- What are the biggest innovations in global and public health you expect to see in the next 5-10 years? “We are gaining understanding of malnutrition. Solving this would be huge for the 40% of kids in Africa who never fully develop their brains or bodies. We still need to prevent and cure HIV. We need to eradicate Malaria (which will take decades). We are close to eradicating polio. Other areas like better contraception or understanding and preventing pre-term birth and still births show promise.”
- Which developing countries are you most optimistic about? “Some of the so called LMIC (Low Middle Income) countries have huge promise — Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Indonesia. In Africa it is important for Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Ethiopia to succeed. Ethiopia was doing well until the civil unrest so hopefully they can get past that. Some of the smaller countries are doing well but we need the big ones to also do well.”
- What do you plan to do with all the farmland you have purchased? “My investment team bought the farmland. It is less than .1% of all US farmland because the ownership is so diverse. We invest in the farms to raise productivity. Some are near cities and might end up having other uses.”
- What are your thoughts on indoor farming? “For some high value crops it can work. For the cereal crops like wheat, rice and maize it is unlikely to ever be economic. We can improve seeds for all crops a lot to increase productivity – this is a key investment to help reduce the problems caused by climate change.”
- What advice would you give young people who want to make a positive impact on this world? “The ideal thing is to read a lot and hopefully find a skill you enjoy that can have impact. For some that means being great at science or engineering. For some it means being a great communicator or politician. For some it means being a nurse or a doctor. The opportunity to learn is better today than ever before.”
- What do you think about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies? “I don’t own any. I like investing in things that have valuable output. The value of companies is based on how they make great products. The value of crypto is just what some other person decides someone else will pay for it so not adding to society like other investments.”
- Can you a still jump over a chair from a standing start? “A smaller chair than I could do at age 30… Pretty small now. I try to stay fit playing a lot of tennis.”
- How did you manage with stress during all of your class-action lawsuits of the 1990s and 2000s? “Although those lawsuits were tough I have been super lucky in my life and I had a good team of people working with me to help get them settled and move ahead.”
- Just what was Epstein’s island like? What did you do there? “I never visited any of his islands. I did have meetings where Global Health funding was discussed. In retrospect I regret meeting with him.”
- What kind of phone do you have? “I have an Android Galaxy ZFold3. I try different ones. With this screen I can get by with a great portable PC and the phone and nothing else.”
- What’s the one thing you’ve bought that’s brought you the most joy? “If we do succeed in polio eradication that will be super joyful. It has taken a lot of patience and great strategy to get close to success. The thing that has succeeded the best so far is funding vaccines for poor countries through GAVI. I do like burgers, nice tennis racquets and all the great streaming services but nothing too unique.”