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Melinda Gates says we may obtain international herd immunity someday in 2022

Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks during a television interview by Bloomberg Technology in San Francisco, California on Tuesday, May 7, 2019.

Michael Short | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Billionaire philanthropist and former tech manager Melinda Gates told CNBC that global herd immunity to Covid-19 could be achieved sometime in 2022.

Covid vaccines, especially stand-alone vaccines like Johnson & Johnson’s, are unlikely to hit developing countries “en masse” until later this year, said Gates, who donated millions to coronavirus vaccine and treatment research as co-chair of the program on Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“So it will be sometime in 2022 before we have full herd immunity,” she told CNBC’s Sara Eisen in an interview that aired on Closing Bell on Monday. “And boy, I think we’re all looking forward to it. There are a lot of people who are suffering, not just in the US but everywhere.”

Gates’ comments come as global leaders and public health officials around the world try to hand out doses of Covid-19 vaccines in hopes of ending the pandemic that has infected more than 117 million people worldwide, according to reports Johns Hopkins University has killed nearly 2.6 million people.

Medical experts said it could be months or even years before nations can vaccinate enough people to achieve herd immunity. The longer it takes to get there, the more time the virus will have to mutate into potentially dangerous new variants as it spreads to new hosts.

Infectious disease experts warn that there is a high likelihood of Covid-19 becoming an endemic disease, which means it will spread to society like the flu every year, albeit likely at a lower level than it is today. Officials must constantly look for new variants of the virus so scientists can make vaccines against them, experts say.

Last month, Bill Gates told CNBC that shooting in developing countries will “be the only way to end the pandemic”. World Health officials have been concerned that poorer nations will miss out on the vaccines as richer nations like the US, China and much of Europe buy out all of the supply.

Meanwhile, counties and states in the US are rapidly giving vaccinations, but the nation is still “far from” achieving herd immunity to Covid, Adam MacNeil, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told an FDA advisory panel late last month.

Around 60 million of around 331 million Americans received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at 6 a.m. CET on Monday, according to the CDC. And around 31.2 million of those people are fully vaccinated.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical officer, the goal is to vaccinate between 70% and 85% of the US population – or about 232 to 281 million people – to achieve herd immunity and quell the pandemic.

Earlier on Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new guidelines that allow people who are fully vaccinated to see vaccinated and some unvaccinated indoors safely without wearing masks or staying 6 feet away.

During the CNBC interview, Gates praised Biden’s response to the pandemic, saying it was “night and day” compared to the Trump administration’s efforts.

“Is it perfect already? Absolutely not,” said Gates. “But is it a fundamental change? I mean, we deliver vaccines as a nation, you know. … 15% of the population is insured. So there is more to be done, but you are seeing more tests. You I see more hope because people see their loved ones who are vaccinated older. “

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