Melinda Gates called on PM Jacinda Ardern to ‘speak up’ in support of global Covid-19 vaccine

Melinda Gates, co-chair of one of the world’s biggest philanthropic organisations, personally appealed to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to “speak up” in support of a collective approach to a Covid-19 vaccine.

Documents, released under the Official Information Act (OIA), show the pair met via teleconference on June 17 – the meeting was requested by Gates herself.

It came a month after the Government earmarked close to $40 million towards finding a Covid-19 vaccine.

The focus of the meeting was squarely on Covid-19, an upcoming vaccine and how the pandemic was impacting women, particularly in the Pacific.

“Gates said the US, and the world, saw New Zealand’s response and PM Ardern’s leadership as an exemplar,” according to official records of the meeting.

Ardern noted that it was going to be “a long journey” to get back to a pre-Covid-19 world.

“The key message from Gates was that this issue is difficult; we need you to speak up in support of a collective approach to vaccines,” the records show.

“PM Ardern said she’d be happy to assist.”

In late May – a month before the meeting – the Government pledged $37 million towards finding a Covid-19 vaccine.

Some $15 million of that was earmarked for international research collaboration, including those managed by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) which funds independent vaccine development.

A further $10 million went to domestic research and $7 million was put towards vaccine alliance, Gavi, which distributes vaccines to developing countries.

During the meeting with Ardern, Gates noted this contribution and said it was an “important sign of leadership”.

Records of the meeting show that when the conversation switched to how long the vaccine would take to make, Ardern appeared sceptical of the 12-18 month vaccine timeframe set out by Gates.

“PM Ardern asked whether a 12-18 month timeframe to a vaccine was optimistic.”
Gates told Ardern that it was and the leading vaccine would be into the third phase of its development by the end of this year.

“If they went into manufacturing ‘super-quick’ then maybe in Q1 of next year there might be some vaccines available.”

Talking points for the meeting, also released under the OIA, show Ardern planned to push for the “equitable distribution” of a future Covid-19 vaccine.

Her talking points also show Ardern was keen to raise the issue of Pacific Island countries and the access they will have to a vaccine.

“Pacific women are disproportionally and differently impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic,” the records show Ardern saying.

She added that Pacific Countries are reporting increases in the rates of violence against women and girls, shrinking access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and unequal harm to women and girls’ lives.

Melinda Gates – along with her husband, Bill Gates – are co-chairs of the Gates Foundation, which has provided more than US$50 billion in grants since its formation in 2000.

The foundation has been a driving force behind the creation of a Covid-19 vaccination.

The teleconference was not the first time Gates and Ardern have met.

The Prime Minister met Melinda and her husband, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, during her New York trip last year.

Ardern was giving a presentation on how she believes a focus on wellbeing can reduce inequality.

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