Billionaire Bill Gates has become a top target of conspiracy theories related to the coronavirus pandemic, which the Microsoft co-founder called "bizarre."
"It's almost hard to deny this stuff because it's so stupid or strange that even to repeat it gives it credibility," Gates said Thursday on phone call announcing The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's $1.6 billion pledge to global vaccine alliance Gavi, according to Business Insider.
Since the start of the global pandemic, Gates has been the subject of conspiracies falsely linking him to the coronavirus' origins in some way or another. In fact a Yahoo News/YouGov survey in May found that 28% of U.S. adults believed a debunked conspiracy theory suggesting Gates planned to use an eventual Covid-19 vaccine to implant monitoring microchips in billions of people.
"In a way, it's so bizarre you almost want to see it as something humorous but it's really not a humorous thing," Gates said, according to Business Insider.
"I've never been involved in any microchip type thing," Gates said, according to Wired. "It is good to know which kids have had a measles vaccine and which have not, so there are data systems and… health records that people use to track that… but there's no chips or anything like that."
Gates called the survey "a little bit concerning," according to Wired, and added that widespread conspiracies could ultimately be dangerous if they discourage large groups of people from getting vaccinated against the disease. (Health officials have expressed concerns that misinformation could contribute to low adoption rates for a Covid-19 vaccine, once it is developed, which could make it more difficult to achieve herd immunity.)
"If you don't get a broad uptake [of the vaccine], then it wouldn't have the dramatic effect you want to have [where] the risk of reintroduction is so low that you can go back to having things like big sports events," Gates said Thursday, according to BGR. "The misinformation could hold us back at some point, but I wouldn't say that that's hurting us at this stage."
In April, Mark Suzman, chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, responded to reports on conspiracy theories circulating about Gates, saying it is "distressing that there are people spreading misinformation when we should all be looking for ways to collaborate and save lives."
Gates has been particularly outspoken with regard to the global pandemic and the varied responses by world leaders. For instance, in March, Gates criticized the U.S. government's response to the pandemic, claiming that "we did not act fast enough to have an ability to avoid the shutdown."
Gates also called President Donald Trump's decision to defund the World Health Organization (WHO) "as dangerous as it sounds" and the billionaire added on Thursday that he's hopeful the president will rethink his recent threats to withdraw the U.S. from WHO altogether.
Meanwhile, in addition to this week's Gavi pledge, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation already committed more than $300 million to help fund the development of coronavirus treatments and vaccines in recent months.