Bill Gates revives interest in developing a universal flu vaccine
At a recent conference, Bill Gates revealed his plan to entice innovative thinkers across a number of industries to develop a universal flu vaccine, STAT News has reported.
The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation are set to offer up to $12mn in seed money to entice innovators across machine learning, AI and all fields of healthcare to develop the vaccine which will cover all various strains of the virus. Whilst the Foundation would provide half the money, Larry Page, co-founder of Google, is set to fund the second half.
The website has stated that funding will be issued in two parts, with grants of up to $2mn for individual projects for those which are deemed to harness significant potential. The money would enable researchers to undertake required tests and essential data accumulation. However, applicants would have to undergo such feats at a rapid pace, with the aim to have a vaccine ready to be tested on humans by 2021.
The news comes a century after the Spanish Flu pandemic, recorded as one of the worst in history. Responsible for the deaths of up to 100mn people, numbers would be universally higher today, and spread quicker as a result of booming tourism figures.
Gates has openly stated that such a pandemic of equal severity today would kill up to 33mn people within the first six months, despite modern medical advances, The Atlantic reports.
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However, many have stated that $12mn is not enough to cover such research into a potential vaccine. The National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease spent over $60mn solely on universal flu vaccine research in 2017, leading to questions as to whether such a timeline, and funding, is somewhat optimistic.
“Sometimes I’m over-optimistic,” reflected Gates when asked directly. “There’s no guarantee we’d have one in 10 years, but I think there’s a reasonable chance that we will.”
Upon recently meeting with President Trump, Gates’ passion to drive the development of a potential vaccine led Trump to directly call Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb regarding its potential.
Paul Radspinner, President and CEO of FluGen has also reacted positively to the news. “Having the Gates Foundation throw its weight behind the search for a universal flu vaccine is fantastic news,” he informed The Verge.
“We’re not concerned about the size of the investment as I’m sure this is just the first of many announcements by the Foundation about how they will play a significant role in this area.”
Advances in health "must ensure self-sovereign identity"
The UK government has announced that from September onwards COVID-19 vaccine passports will be necessary to gain entry into places with large crowds, such as nightclubs.
This has reignited the debate between those who believe having proof of vaccinations will enable people to gather in public places and travel safely, and those who view the digital certificates as an attack on personal freedom.
The arguments have increased in intensity since the recent announcement to drop COVID-19 restrictions in England, in a move to reopen the economy that has attracted fierce criticism both domestically and overseas.
Cross-party ministers are set to defy the government’s latest plans to introduce vaccine passports over civil liberties concerns. A number of MPs have already signed the Big Brother Watch declaration against “Covid status certification to deny individuals access to general services, businesses or jobs” in recent months.
However Mark Shaw, CEO of Tento Applied Sciences, says the Big Brother Watch campaign is based on false assumptions. “Big Brother Watch puts forward a compelling argument based around civil liberties, but some of the assumptions they make are simply incorrect” he says.
“For example, the BBW campaign claims that all Covid passes are discriminatory, counterproductive and would lead to British citizens having to share personal health information with anyone in authority, from bouncers to bosses. However, there are already privacy-first digital wallets that give individuals the freedom to store and share anonymised medical documents, work credentials and other types of documentation quickly, simply, and securely.
“I wholeheartedly agree that individuals should not be required to share their own personal health information with unknown third parties or with anyone in authority who demands it" Shaw adds. "But I strongly disagree with the suggestion that ‘events and businesses are either safe to open for everyone, or no one’. It creates a false dichotomy that either everyone is safe, or nobody is safe. If employers or event organisers don’t take action to properly manage workplace or venue safety, then they risk curtailing the safety and freedom of movement for the majority."
The subject of personal health data is under scrutiny in the UK at the moment, following controversial plans for the NHS to share patient data with third parties. These have been put on hold following public criticism.
Meanwhile a new report has found that the majority of the British public is willing to embrace digital healthcare tools such as apps and digital therapies prescribed by a trusted healthcare professional.
Shaw adds: “The vital point to make is this: innovations in health technology must ensure self-sovereign identity. This means the data held about an individual is owned by the individual and stored on their device. And, in the case of medical data, that data can be delivered from healthcare professionals to the device in an encrypted format, and the user chooses how they share their information."