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Gates speaks at a 2015 dinner. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Bill Gates today announced a $12 million "Grand Challenge" to boost the development of a universal flu vaccine, as part of efforts to create a global pandemic response system.

Why it matters: Gates says world leaders need to prepare for the next global pandemic — whether it originates from a bioterrorist attack, new flu viral outbreak or other pathogen — which could have the potential to kill nearly 33 million people in six months, Gates says.

“We can’t predict when. But given the continual emergence of new pathogens, the increasing risk of a bioterror attack, and how connected our world is through air travel, there is a significant probability of a large and lethal, modern-day pandemic occurring in our lifetimes.”
— Bill Gates giving the New England Journal of Medicine Shattuck Lecture in Boston

The seed money: The Grand Challenge is starting with $12 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Google co-founder Larry Page and his wife, Lucy. As Gates told STAT, the money is just the start of what will be needed. Normal vaccines cost roughly $1 billion to develop, test and manufacture, but one as complex as a universal vaccine will likely cost more, STAT writes.

Universal flu vaccine: Gates says a universal flu vaccine is needed to prevent another outbreak like the Flu of 1918, which killed 50 million people worldwide.

Other methods to prepare: The next pandemic may not necessarily be from a new flu virus strain, he says, and other methods to respond may be needed. So researchers are experimenting in other areas, he says, such as other antivirals, monoclonal antibody therapies, RNA and gene delivery systems, rapid diagnoses using CRISP-R, and the power of computing and big data analysis.

U.S. role: Gates called upon the U.S. to play a leadership role in creating a pandemic response system. "The world needs to prepare for pandemics, the way it prepares for war," Gates adds.

Go deeper

Jack Dorsey to step down as Twitter CEO

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Jack Dorsey will step down as CEO of Twitter, the company announced Monday. He will be succeeded by CTO Parag Agrawal.

The big picture: Dorsey is also the CEO of financial payments company Square, which he co-founded in 2009, and has become a crypto evangelist in recent years.

Tracking the pandemic's unequal impact

Expand chart
Data: Morning Consult/Axios; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The pandemic was bound to hit the most economically vulnerable among us the hardest. New polling data from Morning Consult, out this morning, shows the degree to which those difficulties were more concentrated among people of color.

Catch up quick: The Morning Consult/Axios Inequality Index has tracked the economic experience of adults in three wage groups since May 2020. We began publishing the findings in May of this year, and six months in, we’re slicing the data a little differently — and looking at inequality between ethnicities.

2 hours ago - Health

WHO says Omicron poses "very high" risk

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaking in Geneva in October. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization said Monday in a new risk assessment that it believes the COVID-19 Omicron variant poses a "very high" risk to the globe because it may be more transmissible than other strains of the virus.

Why it matters: Though the WHO acknowledged there are still many uncertainties associated with the variant, the agency said it believes the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron around the world is "high."