DealBook Online Summit Live Updates: Elizabeth Warren to Speak on What’s Next for Washington
With several Covid-19 vaccine trials showing initial promising results, hopes are high that we might soon put the virus behind us. But the reality is likely a lot more complicated, experts told DealBook’s Andrew Ross Sorkin.
Bill Gates, the co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, explored the rush to develop an effective vaccine, and the political, social and behavioral obstacles that may hinder acceptance of treatments, even those deemed safe. He was joined on a video conference by Heidi Larson, the director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Albert Bourla, chief executive of Pfizer.
Mr. Gates expressed surprise at the widespread resistance to public health measures in the United States. “I wouldn’t have expected mask wearing to become controversial,” he said. “I wouldn’t have expected the administration to find sort of the wildest fringe opinion possible.”
His organization was working on vaccine development before the pandemic, but people were disconnected from those “reasonably obscure” efforts. The attention the coronavirus has brought to his foundation’s work hasn’t always been positive, however. He expressed dismay over conspiracy theories circulating about his financial interest in vaccine development, saying, “They’re not true.”
“Where does that come from? Is it because these are uncertain times? People prefer a simpler story?” he said. “I hope it fades away, because we’re just trying to play a constructive role.”
Mistrust is problematic from a health perspective, the panel members said. Without trust in a vaccine and people willing to take it, infection rates won’t fall.
But it’s important to understand skepticism the public has been feeling, Ms. Larson said: “We have to appreciate that it’s been a hyper-uncertain time.” Her research has shown only about half of people surveyed would take a vaccine, but “there’s always a chance” that things can change, she added.
Distrust can be countered by building community momentum and listening to concerns, she said, and that may help persuade people to participate, as she has seen in work on polio eradication.
There are still many unknowns surrounding a vaccine, but “the fundamental questions” about efficacy and safety have been answered, Mr. Bourla said. He added that he was never personally pressured to meet the Trump administration’s desired development timeline, though he was certainly aware of it.
“The election was always, for us, an artificial deadline,” said the Pfizer chief. “It may have been important for the president, but not for us.”
The one thing that seems clear to everyone on the panel is that the pandemic has changed habits, perhaps forever. “My prediction would be that over 50 percent of business travel and over 30 percent of days in the office will go away,” Mr. Gates said of a post-coronavirus world.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, spoke to DealBook’s Andrew Ross Sorkin on Tuesday about the coronavirus, vaccines and how long people will have to take precautions. Recent news of initially successful vaccine trials from Pfizer and Modena have inspired hope, but a surge in cases across the country is causing alarm.
Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at the DealBook Online Summit that the return to normalcy depended on two elements: the effectiveness of vaccines and how many people take them. He said the vaccine trial results were “striking,” but he expressed concern that resistance to vaccination would reduce their overall effectiveness.
“We could be quite close to some degree of normality” by next fall, he said, but stressed that public health measures would continue to be necessary for some time.
“I can tell you, that really depends on whether we get the overwhelming majority of the people vaccinated,” he said. And a vaccine won’t replace public health measures “until you get to the point where domestically and globally we no longer have a pandemic or epidemic situation.”
Dr. Fauci resisted the politicization of the disease and protective measures. “A public health message like I’m trying to give is not encroaching on anyone’s freedom,” he said. “We’ve got to do everything we possibly can to pull together as a nation, and not as individual factions having differences that spill over into public health.”
“Public health really has nothing to do with politics,” he said.
“We’re all in this together as a nation,” he added. Citing evidence of 245,000 deaths and 11 million infections, Dr. Fauci said, “You can’t run way from the data.”
He noted the importance of the incoming Biden administration to work with the outgoing administration on a smooth transition. “I have been now dealing with six administrations in my 35 years as director. I’ve been through five transitions. I can say that transitions are extremely important to the smooth continuity of whatever you’re doing,” he said. “Right now, we’re in a very difficult public health situation.”
With the holiday season approaching, the infectious disease expert acknowledged that it would be up to people to decide what was right for them in terms of staying safe at gatherings. “Each individual family unit needs to make a risk-benefit assessment for what they want to do with the holidays,” he said.
His family is going to forgo a gathering and share a meal over video chat. “My daughters, who are adult professional women in different parts of the country, have made a decision,” he said. “They want to protect their daddy.”
Dr. Fauci suggested that with effective vaccines seemingly around the corner, now is the time to bolster health measures. Some have said that “following the science” in Europe hasn’t prevented an increase in infections, but Dr. Fauci blamed “Covid fatigue” for mounting infection rates there.
“We should use that vaccine to say that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “Now that we see the end in sight, now is the time to double down, put away Covid fatigue.”
The doctor said that the pandemic was his long-dreaded nightmare: a respiratory infection that jumps species, spreads easily and has a high mortality rate.
“I am living that thing I feared the most,” he said. “Let us get out of this,” he added, before worrying about whether the world would remember the lessons learned from this pandemic.
Masayoshi Son, the founder and chief executive of SoftBank, has made billions from his prescient bets over the years, including an early investment in Alibaba of China. But, he told DealBook’s Andrew Ross Sorkin at the DealBook Online Summit on Tuesday, he still has made many mistakes.
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Son spoke as much about his missed opportunities as he did his successes. His philosophy: “I would rather accept my stupidity and my ignorance — my bad decisions — so that I can learn from my mistakes,” he said. “It’s better to accept them, so I become smarter.”
He noted that he had the opportunity to become an early investor in Amazon, and even spoke with Jeff Bezos, the Amazon chief, about taking a 30 percent stake in the company before it went public.
He didn’t take it. “I’m so stupid!” he said, chuckling. “Don’t embarrass me.”
But Mr. Son also admitted making a big mistake with WeWork. SoftBank poured billions into the co-working business, betting that it would transform the nature of offices and “elevate the world’s consciousness” — and then was forced to bail it out after its plans to go public cratered.
“We made a loss on WeWork,” he said. “That was my mistake.” But he noted that the company had other hits, and its investments over all are up by at least tens of billions of dollars.
Mr. Son also expressed some admiration for Adam Neumann, the once-highflying WeWork chief executive who persuaded him to invest in the company in the first place. Mr. Neumann also made mistakes, Mr. Son said, but “I’m a big believer that he will be successful, and that he has learned a lot from his prior life.”
Every day, the DealBook newsletter helps subscribers makes sense of the latest business and policy news. Here are some of the stories in today’s edition:
News Corp bids for Simon & Schuster. Rupert Murdoch’s media company, which owns HarperCollins, is one of two finalists to acquire the book publisher, The New York Times’s Ed Lee reports. (The other is Bertelsmann, which owns Penguin Random House.) A deal would substantially consolidate the book publishing industry, giving Mr. Murdoch ownership of titles by top authors like Stephen King and several hit books critical of President Trump.
Airbnb opens its books for its I.P.O. The home-rental giant filed its offering prospectus yesterday, revealing how it has been affected by the pandemic. Revenue in the first nine months of 2020 was down 32 percent, to $2.5 billion, while net losses doubled, to $697 million. Like other tech companies, it has created multiple classes of stock that give its founders disproportionate control.
Judy Shelton’s Fed nomination grows shakier. President Trump’s controversial pick for the central bank faced new opposition, as Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, said he would vote against Ms. Shelton’s nomination. A confirmation vote may come down to a tiebreaker decided by Vice President Mike Pence.
Elsewhere in the newsletter, DealBook reporters note how President-elect Joe Biden was expected to seek the middle ground on an economic rescue package, but in his first major policy speech he seemed steeled for a fight. Analyzing political donations for the upcoming Georgia Senate runoff elections, it looks like the private equity industry is investing in government gridlock, backing the Republican incumbents after donating more, on balance, to Mr. Biden’s campaign than President Trump’s. And with the departure of one of Goldman Sachs’s best-known rain makers, Gregg Lemkau, M.&A. may have less sway at the Wall Street giant.