As omicron subvariants continue to drive up case counts in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Bill Gates is already worried about the next global outbreak.
The time to start planning for the next pandemic is now, the billionaire Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist told TODAY co-anchor Savannah Guthrie on Tuesday.
"I don’t want us to wait until we forget about how awful this has been,” said Gates. “We’ve had tens of millions of deaths, trillions of dollars of economic loss, education loss, mental depression, and with a few key steps, we can make sure this won’t happen again.”
Gates, who famously predicted that the world was unprepared for a pandemic during a 2015 TED Talk, shares his ideas about how to more successfully battle a global outbreak in his new book, “How to Prevent the Next Pandemic,” out Tuesday.
In the book, Gates takes inspiration from firefighters, proposing that thousands of people work together on a global "germ team" that's dedicated to studying and preventing pandemics. This team, writes Gates, would have the ability to immediately travel to outbreak sites to contain illnesses.
"The U.S. alone has over 300,000 full-time firefighters. So we take it seriously because if one house burns down, it can affect an entire community," said Gates. "Pandemics are even worse. And we didn't practice. We weren't ready to go. A few countries that were more ready, like Australia, have 10% the deaths that we have."
"The debate about exactly how to invest in that preparedness — now is the right time even though we're still trying to get out of this one," he added.
Gates argued that the World Health Organization can't do all that's needed to help prevent pandemics.
"They're not funded, actually, to go to countries and practice. They're not funded to fly in where there's an outbreak," he said, adding that the WHO needs a "dedicated" team of people to help them stay on top of potential pandemics.
"We'd make sure that this team had those skills and was always practicing," he added.
Any money invested in battling a pandemic now, Gates added, is sure to bring "a big return" later.
Aside from wishing that the U.S. had been better prepared medically for the coronavirus pandemic, Gates also laments that the country's response to COVID-19 became politicized.
"It's unfortunate that we didn't get trusted voices in both (political) parties talking about the benefit of masks and vaccines so that it wasn't a political issue," he said.
The tech pioneer also agreed that misinformation has been deadly during the coronavirus pandemic and said he found it strange that he ended up being the target of conspiracy theories because of his involvement in the COVID-19 vaccine.
“That is a very weird thing that just because I support vaccines to save millions of lives, people are saying no, I make money from vaccines or that I’m trying to cause death or track (them) or a lot of strange stuff. (It’s) hard to understand why that is," he said.