- Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates said in a call with reporters Wednesday that it’s “almost hard to deny” the conspiracy theories surrounding him and vaccines “because it’s so stupid.”
- Misinformation has been circulating in recent weeks falsely claiming that Gates is behind a plot to use vaccines to implant microchips in people.
- When asked about a Yahoo News/YouGov poll showing that 28% of Americans, including 44% of Republicans and 50% of Fox News viewers, wrongly believe this, he said it’s “a little bit concerning.”
- Gates, whose foundation pledged an additional $1.6 billion on Thursday toward vaccinating children in low-income countries, said misinformation hasn’t “held up” the global funding effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, but that it could make it harder to reach herd immunity if and when a vaccine is found.
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Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates denied and shrugged off baseless conspiracy theories about him being behind a plot to use vaccines to implant tracking microchips in people during a call with reporters on Wednesday.
“I’ve never been involved any sort of microchip type thing … It’s almost hard to deny this stuff because it’s so stupid or strange,” he said.
Gates has attempted to sound the alarm about the dangers of pandemics for years and urged world leaders, including then-president-elect Donald Trump in late 2016, to take stronger steps to prepare. He famously gave a TED talk in 2015 that warned of the potentially staggering death toll a worldwide pandemic could entail.
Citing that talk, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s $300 million commitment to fight COVID-19 and develop a vaccine, some right-wing fringe groups and pundits began spreading misinformation online in January that Gates is somehow behind the virus’ creation and wants to profit from it.
"It is good to know which kids have had a measles vaccine and which have not," Gates said, adding that "there are needed systems," like health records that should be in place to help healthcare workers identify who has been immunized, but that no microchips are involved whatsoever.
"Our foundation gets money to buy vaccines," he said. "That's why we saw the risk of a pandemic and spoke out."
Still, coronavirus-related Bill Gates conspiracy theories exploded on social media and TV: They were mentioned 1.2 million times in March and April, according to data provided to The New York Times by media intelligence firm Zignal Labs.
In a recent survey by Yahoo News and YouGov, 28% of Americans said they believed the conspiracy theory, while 44% of Republicans and 50% of Fox News viewers thought it was true. (By contrast, 61% of MSNBC viewers said it was false).
When asked about the poll, Gates said he found it "a little bit concerning," but said it hadn't prevented governments and other groups across the globe from funding COVID-19 vaccine development efforts.
However, he did express some concern that, if and when a vaccine is found, anti-vaccine sentiment could make it harder to reach herd immunity - which occurs when enough of a population is immune to a pathogen that it prevents its further spread.
Gates also argued that when vaccines are ready to manufacture, they should be distributed first to countries with weaker healthcare infrastructure and where social distancing is less feasible. His foundation announced an additional $1.6 billion pledge over the next five years to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to immunize children in low-income countries.
"The world needs to work together to develop safe and effective vaccines and make sure that we scale up the manufacturing so we can get them out to those need them the most, not necessarily those who can pay the most," he said.
Brittany Chang, Ben Gilbert, and Shaena Montanari contributed reporting to this story.