I’m assuming you’re not going to have trouble paying for it, Bill, so you could ask for anything.
Well, I don’t want special treatment, so that’s a tricky thing. Other antivirals are two to three months away. Antibodies are two to three months away. We’ve had about a factor-of-two improvement in hospital outcomes already, and that’s with just remdesivir and dexamethasone. These other things will be additive to that.
You helped fund a Covid diagnostic testing program in Seattle that got quicker results, and it wasn’t so intrusive. The FDA put it on pause. What happened?
There’s this thing where the health worker jams the deep turbinate, in the back of your nose, which actually hurts and makes you sneeze on the healthy worker. We showed that the quality of the results can be equivalent if you just put a self-test in the tip of your nose with a cotton swab. The FDA made us jump through some hoops to prove that you didn’t need to refrigerate the result, that it could go back in a dry plastic bag, and so on. So the delay there was just normal double checking, maybe overly careful but not based on some political angle. Because of what we have done at FDA, you can buy these cheaper swabs that are available by the billions. So anybody who’s using the deep turbinate now is just out of date. It’s a mistake, because it slows things down.
But people aren’t getting their tests back quickly enough.
Well, that’s just stupidity. The majority of all US tests are completely garbage, wasted. If you don’t care how late the date is and you reimburse at the same level, of course they’re going to take every customer. Because they are making ridiculous money, and it’s mostly rich people that are getting access to that. You have to have the reimbursement system pay a little bit extra for 24 hours, pay the normal fee for 48 hours, and pay nothing [if it isn’t done by then]. And they will fix it overnight.
Why don’t we just do that?
Because the federal government sets that reimbursement system. When we tell them to change it they say, “As far as we can tell, we’re just doing a great job, it’s amazing!” Here we are, this is August. We are the only country in the world where we waste the most money on tests. Fix the reimbursement. Set up the CDC website. But I have been on that kick, and people are tired of listening to me.
As someone who has built your life on science and logic, I’m curious what you think when you see so many people signing onto this anti-science view of the world.
Well, strangely, I’m involved in almost everything that anti-science is fighting. I’m involved with climate change, GMOs, and vaccines. The irony is that it’s digital social media that allows this kind of titillating, oversimplistic explanation of, “OK, there’s just an evil person, and that explains all of this.” And when you have [posts] encrypted, there is no way to know what it is. I personally believe government should not allow those types of lies or fraud or child pornography [to be hidden with encryption like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger].
Well, you’re friends with Mark Zuckerberg. Have you talked to him about this?
After I said this publicly, he sent me mail. I like Mark, I think he’s got very good values, but he and I do disagree on the trade-offs involved there. The lies are so titillating you have to be able to see them and at least slow them down. Like that video where, what do they call her, the sperm woman? That got over 10 million views! [Note: It was more than 20 million.] Well how good are these guys at blocking things, where once something got the 10 million views and everybody was talking about it, they didn’t delete the link or the searchability? So it was meaningless. They claim, “Oh, now we don’t have it.” What effect did that have? Anybody can go watch that thing! So I am a little bit at odds with the way that these conspiracy theories spread, many of which are anti-vaccine things. We give literally tens of billions for vaccines to save lives, then people turn around saying, “No, we’re trying to make money and we’re trying to end lives.” That’s kind of a wild inversion of what our values are and what our track record is.